LGBTI people in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are fleeing discrimination and gender-based violence in their countries, only to face further risks in Mexico and the USA.
In a new report, Amnesty International says that gay men and trans women in particular are being targeted by criminal gangs and members of security forces in their home countries.
It also accuses Mexican authorities of failing to protect them from violations and abuses while travelling through the country, and highlights prolonged and systematic immigration detention in the USA.
“People are facing vicious discrimination in Central America due to their gender identities, and have absolutely nowhere to run for safety,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“Terrorised at home, and abused while trying to seek sanctuary abroad, they are now some of the most vulnerable refugees in the Americas. The fact that Mexico and the USA are willing to watch on as they suffer extreme violence is, simply, criminal.”
El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have some of the highest murder rates on earth. Most refugees and asylum-seekers who spoke to Amnesty said constant discrimination and the levels of violence they suffered in their countries – including physical attacks and financial extortion at the hands of criminal gangs and killings – made them feel they had no choice but to flee.
The high levels of impunity and corruption in their countries mean authorities are unlikely to punish those responsible for crimes against LGBTI people, particularly when security forces are responsible for the attacks.
According to the Honduran NGO Cattrachas, 275 LGBTI people were killed in the country between 2009 and 2017. In most cases, those responsible were never brought to justice.
Carlos, from Honduras, was forced to flee to Mexico after he was violently attacked and threatened with death by a criminal gang for being gay.
He told Amnesty: “I never tried reporting [the abuse] because of what happened to some friends. As soon as a friend of mine reported the abuse, those who had committed it went to his house to get him. That’s why he ran away to Mexico. Another friend was killed right after he reported what had happened to him.”
“I just want to live and be safe…”
Amnesty International found that the brutality suffered by gay men and trans women in Central America does not end after they leave their countries.
Most of those interviewed said they suffered further discrimination and violence, including at the hands of public officials, in Mexico, where high levels of violence against LGBTI people in general are reported.
Many also said they didn’t feel safe in the country as many of the criminal gangs who threatened them back home operate across the southern Mexican border.
According to a study by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, two thirds of the LGBTI refugees from Central America they spoke to in 2016 and 2017 had suffered sexual and gender-based violence in Mexico.
Several gay men and trans women also told Amnesty that they were never properly informed about their rights to seek asylum in Mexico, despite the extreme danger they would face if sent back home. They also complained that Mexican authorities did not inform them of any progress regarding investigations after they reported having suffered human rights abuses there.
A number of trans women who managed to survive the dangerous journey across Mexico and crossed the border to the US complained of the treatment they received in detention. Others were deported from the US and Mexico and sent back to their countries, to the nightmare they were desperately trying to escape from.
Cristel, a 25-year-old trans woman from El Salvador, told Amnesty she was held in solitary confinement in USA immigration facilities as soon as she crossed the Mexican border to the USA in April 2017.
After a week, she was put in a small cell with eight men. Cristel failed to secure asylum and was returned to El Salvador, where criminal gangs continue to threaten her. “I don’t want to be illegal. I just want to live and be safe,” said Cristel.
“The more authorities in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and the USA fail to take action to protect some of the most vulnerable people in the Americas, the more blood they will have on their hands,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.
“These governments must urgently take decisive action to tackle the epidemic levels of violence against LGBTI people in the region and improve their policies and practices to ensure that all those who are in need of international protection can access it.”