World News

Guatemala says deportation flights restart from U.S.

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - The United States this week resumed flying Guatemalan deportees to their homeland after a hiatus of several weeks brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Guatemala’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

The flights have caused tensions between the United States and Guatemala because dozens of people sent back to the Central American country have tested positive for coronavirus.

A first flight of migrants reached Guatemala on Tuesday with a second due on Thursday, the ministry said in a statement.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Patricia Letona said the flights would contain groups of around 50 Guatemalans and that two more were planned for next week.

Although flights with unaccompanied minors from the United States have been ongoing, general deportations by air to Guatemala were suspended in mid-May.

Guatemala’s government said deportees would be screened for the virus and that only its citizens held in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers were coming back.

“The decision (to restart flights) was made on the basis of technical sanitary information,” Letona said.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has pressured the Guatemalan government to keep receiving deported migrants despite widespread concerns returnees are bringing coronavirus with them and could infect remote communities.

News of the restart quickly met with resistance from migrant advocacy groups inside Guatemala.

Mauro Verzeletti, a priest and director of Casa del Migrante migrant shelter, said Washington’s decision was “major mistake” and would not help conditions in Guatemala.

“This is only going to cause more racism against the returnees in their own country,” he told Reuters. “We’re still closed and we’ll re-open once the curve of the pandemic has come down.”

Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Editing by Cynthia Osterman