More than 2,000 Central American migrants have returned to their homelands using a program that offers free transportation for the trip, according to a United Nations official.
The “Assisted Voluntary Return” program has transported 2,170 migrants who were either detained at or never got to the U.S. border, according to Christopher Gascon, an official from the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM), Reuters reported. Gascon leads the program’s Mexico mission.
“When they saw the reality, some decided to go home,” he said of migrants. Gascon noted that the mission’s objective, in part, is to correct misinformation about how easy it is to cross the U.S. southern border illegally.
The program is funded by the U.S. State Department and has cost $1.65 million, according to Reuters. Immigration advocates have expressed concern that the program violates the prohibition under international law of returning asylum seekers unwillingly to nations where they could be persecuted.
All migrants transported under the jurisdiction of the program are vetted by the IOM to verify that they are willingly choosing to return, according to Gascon. He said the program offers a safer way for migrants to return home than if they arranged their own transportation. (RELATED: Border Patrol Seizes Over 100 Pounds Of Cocaine From Mexican Woman At Texas Checkpoint)
Some migrants are allegedly forced to wait for their trials in Mexican border towns with unfavorable living conditions, pro-migrant advocates said.
“How can it be a voluntary decision (to return home) given the conditions they face in Mexico? It’s a choice between two hells,” Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center attorney Nicolas Palazzo said.
Thirty migrant advocacy organizations sent a letter in July to the IOM’s Director General expressing concern that migrants were being returned to countries they had fled “out of desperation, not choice, and where they may not fully understand the consequences of failing to appear whenever summoned by a U.S. immigration court,” according to Reuters.
The State Department and IOM did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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