Friday, December 11, 2015

Keeping the US border Honduras?

On November 18, five individuals were detained by Honduran authorities when they tried to enter Honduras with questionable Greek passports.  Given the timing, in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, the story was widely reported in US media.

The passports contained inconsistencies that raised the concern of Honduran immigration officials who ordered their detention.  While it was widely reported from the first that they were Syrians, it was only on the 19th of November that Honduran officials were able to confirm their identities: four college students and a professor, all hoping to seek asylum in the United States.

The group arrived on an Avianca flight from San Jose, Costa Rica, to Tegucigalpa, on the evening of November 17. Some of the biometric data in the passports did not match the individuals, raising the concern of Honduran immigration officials, who then detained them. Greek officials reported that passports for people with those names had been stolen in Athens. Representatives of the Greek embassy of Honduras confirmed that none of the five spoke a word of Greek.

After these five were detained, Honduran immigration officials reported that one other individual, who tried to enter Honduras with a false Greek passport the previous Friday, had been denied entry and deported. Three days after the group of five were detained, three more people, reportedly a Syrian woman and two Pakistani men, were arrested after entering Honduras without proper documents, arriving over land from Nicaragua.

All this made it seem for a short while as if Honduras was a weak point in potential terrorism in the US, invoking fears that ISIS was sending people to infiltrate the US via the border with Mexico.

Never mind that getting to the US-Mexican border from Honduras is a daunting prospect, with Mexico responding strongly to US persuasion to stop refugees coming from Central America from reaching the US border. Even without the recent crack down, the route from Honduras to the US over land was hardly ever easy.

Within a week of the detentions in Honduras, it became clear to most international media that these five men were not the first wave of some subtle terrorist strategy.

Most English media dropped the story entirely. In an exception to this rule, the BBC reported on November 24 that the Syrians arrested at the Tegucigalpa airport had applied for asylum, "because their lives were at risk in their home country".

On December 1, Reuters reported that the men had been freed, and charges dropped, after they paid a fine equal to $450 each for falsifying documents, and that they were expected to be granted permanent refugee status on February 22, quoting a Honduran official saying
they had been warmly received by Honduras' Arab community, and were planning to stay in the Central American country.

How the group reached Honduras is a fascinating illustration of the routes taken by those fleeing Syria.

Authorities said that the group that reached Honduras traveled from Syria to Lebanon, Turkey, Brazil, Argentina, and Costa Rica before trying to enter Honduras.  Honduras' El Heraldo reported that the five fake Greek passports were acquired in Brazil, specifically because Greeks do no need a visa to enter Honduras, but Syrians do.

At least six people traveling on Greek passports, including the five detained in Honduras, entered Costa Rica on a flight from Argentina on November 11.  The sixth person, a woman, was detained  in San Jose, Costa Rica for questioning. 

Costa Rica and Honduras worked with Interpol to identify these individuals.

A check with Interpol found none of them had a criminal background.

On December 1, a Honduran court ordered their release after a plea bargain was reached.  The five Syrians signed a document in which they admitted to the crime of forging government documents (their fake passports) and were fined.  They were freed from prison, and the government of Honduras agreed to rule within the next 90 days on their application for refugee status. 

The Syrian and Lebanese Christian community in Honduras that is supporting their application are descendants of immigrants who themselves came to Honduras as refugees from the Ottoman empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

None of these developments have been enough to stop the exploitation of the story, minus the actual outcome and the exoneration of the Syrians held in Honduras from any terrorist ties, by right wing media and politicians in the US.

Arguing against accepting any Syrian refugees in the US, just this week one state senator wrote
Throw in the five Syrian nationals on their way to the U.S. that were apprehended two weeks ago in Honduras with fraudulent passports and we have a clear picture of imminent danger.

"Imminent danger". 

From students and a professor fleeing violence, welcomed as refugees by one of the poorest nations in our hemisphere.

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