Central America:

Conditions of Guatemalan Refugees and Displaced Persons

NSIAD-89-150: Published: Jul 31, 1989. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the conditions of Guatemalan refugees and displaced persons in Mexico and Guatemala, focusing on: (1) the number, locations, and living conditions of Guatemalan refugees and displaced persons; (2) the assistance that the United Nations (UN) and host governments provided them; and (3) Guatemalan repatriation efforts.

GAO found that: (1) as of December 1988, 42,000 of the 43,000 UN-registered refugees were living in Mexico; (2) UN has assisted the Guatemalan and Mexican governments in repatriating the nearly 200,000 refugees who fled Guatemala; (3) many repatriates and displaced persons who returned to remote regions faced uncertain security, since they returned to areas where sporadic fighting still continued; (4) land disputes confronted many refugees when they tried to return to their places of origin and recoup their abandoned lands, and many experienced the difficult economic conditions that the general Guatemalan population faced; (5) the Guatemalan government provided food, shelter, medical attention, and the basic necessities for reintegration, but needed additional assistance because of the limited economic opportunities and severely underdeveloped infrastructure in rural areas; (6) the Mexican government allowed large numbers of refugees into southern Mexico and provided temporary visas and basic assistance to UN-registered persons, but did not officially recognize them as refugees; (7) an estimated 150,000 Guatemalans who sought refuge in Mexico were not UN-registered; and (8) although Mexico discouraged permanent settlement where agricultural land and other resources were scarce, the more sparsely populated Mexican states offered Guatemalans opportunities to integrate into the general economy and become self-sufficient.

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