By SONIA PÉREZ D., Associated Press
GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — At least six Guatemalans deported from the United States on June 9 tested positive for COVID-19, according to an official in Guatemala’s Health Ministry.
The flight was the first after a month-long suspension imposed by Guatemala after 186 migrants deported from the United States on various flights had tested positive for the disease. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity. The ministry has said it no longer plans to provide information about infected deportees to avoid stigmatizing them.
The June 9 flight had arrived from Alexandria, Louisiana, carrying 40 adults and 10 children.
Dr. Edwin Asturias, head of the Presidential Commission Against Coronavirus, said he was “partially” aware of the new infections, but said more testing was being done.
Guatemala has temporarily suspended the deportation flights multiple times since the pandemic began in order to pressure the U.S. to better screen deportees for the disease. The U.S. began testing each deportee prior to putting them on planes and sending a medical certification with them. However, deportees have still tested positive.
Asturias said “you can’t 100% avoid” the arrival of infected deportees owing to various factors, including that the test could be given while the virus is still incubating. To minimize the risk, Guatemala has asked for not only testing, but that no more than 50 deportees travel on any flight to reduce the risk of transmission.
The non-governmental organization Refugees International published a report Tuesday that said deportees to Guatemala often struggle to reintegrate and “deportations and returns carried out in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic compound these challenges and contribute to the spread of the virus.”
Since the start of the pandemic, the U.S. government has deported 2,359 Guatemalans, including 361 children.
“Guatemalans deported during the pandemic arrive home to face rising levels of food insecurity and a stagnant economy further hobbled by border closures and movement restrictions,” the report said. “Adults and children alike face stigma and a growing risk of violent attack as fear and misinformation about the disease continue to spread.”
As of Monday, Guatemala had reported more than 13,000 COVID-19 infections and nearly 550 deaths.