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Honduran refugees await papers in Mexico as new caravan arrives | Honduras News





Tapachula, Mexico – Luis Jose Carbajal was 19 years old when he was shot. It was two months after the June 2009 coup d’etat in Honduras, and people all over the country were continuing to take to the streets to protest the military’s ousting and expatriation of elected president Manuel Zelaya.

Carbajal was participating in a demonstration against the coup in northwestern Honduras, along a key highway between San Pedro Sula, the country’s second largest city, and Puerto Cortes, its main port. Police and soldiers showed up and before long, opened fire.

“I heard the gunshots and felt something searing,” Carbajal told Al Jazeera.

Carbajal was shot in the thigh, but the bullet went straight through his leg and did not hit an artery. He does not have any documentation from the hospital, because he never went, fearing security forces would track him down there.

Those fears may well have been well-founded. Al Jazeera interviewed several people in northwestern Honduras shot and wounded by security forces during protests against the 2017 reelection of President Juan Orlando Hernandez amid widespread reports of election fraud. In some cases, people reported that security forces showed up in the hospital to intimidate them and their relatives.

Between December 2017 and January 2018, human rights groups documented six people shot dead during crackdowns on protests in the Lopez Arellano Sector alone, more than any other place in the country.

According to organisers of Lopez Arellano Sector opposition alliance support collective who are now in Mexico, more than a dozen people shot and wounded never went to the hospital, and were instead treated by local nurses supporting the protests.

A member of the local collective, Carbajal participated in the recent protests, but military police began monitoring and intimidating him and other collective members, he said. Carbajal fled the country in October, together with thousands of Honduran migrants and refugees who left the country en masse in a highly visible group initially dubbed a caravan. 

“My plan is to prosper, to move forward and create a better future for my children,” said Carbajal, a 28-year-old father of three.

Carbajal was part of a Central American exodus last year that saw thousands of migrants and refugees flee Honduras and El Salvador in highly visible groups dubbed caravans. An estimated 6,000 migrants and refugees travelling collectively for safety made it to the US border in Tijuana late last year.

Some remain in Tijuana, some returned home, and many have since crossed into the US, both at and between official points entry, to seek asylum in the US. Carbajal was not among them. He is still more than 1,700km away from the US border.

Carbajal stayed behind in Tapachula, in southern Mexico, with more than 3,000 participants in the Central American exodus who presented themselves to immigration authorities upon entry into Mexico, received temporary legal status, and are now in the country’s refugee status consideration process.

While many refugees from last year’s caravans await the months-long process, thousands more are beginning to cross the Guatemala-Mexico border. A new caravan of more than 1,800 Central Americans left Honduras and El Salvador earlier this week and are now beginning to arrive in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, on the border with Mexico.

My plan is to prosper, to move forward and create a better future for my children.

Luis Jose Carbajal, Honduran refugee

Central Americans are fleeing their home countries for a variety of reasons, but for some, including Carbajal, the reason was political persecution and state violence. Many people brought supporting documentation with them, and Carbajal is no exception.

Carbajal’s court documents were in surprisingly good condition after the more than 700km journey and brief stint sleeping outdoors in the Tapachula central park after being released from two weeks in immigration detention.

The court documents detail the decision of a Honduran judge to throw out a case against Carbajal several years ago. In 2014, he was on his way to a local football field when he was stopped by police while taking a shortcut through an urban land occupation. The police asked for his identification card before letting him continue on his way, and Carbajal thought nothing of it, but it later spurred years of legal troubles. 

In 2016, the military police arrived outside his house, asked for his ID, and informed him there was a warrant out for his arrest on the charge of usurpation. Carbajal was taken into custody by military police until his nighttime appearance before a judge.

The judge threw the case out for lack of evidence, but coincidence or not, the arrest warrant was erroneously never quashed. Known to police and military police officers in the area for his active involvement in protest activities, Carbajal was repeatedly arrested in the years that followed.

“Wherever they found me, they would arrest me, even when I was carrying the court documents,” he said.

Now in Mexico, Carbajal still carries the court documents, but he also carries the Mexican immigration and Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR) documents that grant him the right to live and work in Mexico and affirm that he is under consideration for refugee status in the country.

‘My son was decapitated’

Carla* also carries her COMAR documents with her everywhere. She fled Honduras months before the mass exodus. Bright and energetic, she helped explain the ins and outs of the process to other Central Americans waiting in line outside the COMAR office in Tapachula. 

“My son was decapitated,” she said, reaching into her purse to retrieve a newspaper clipping with a photograph of grieving women hugging in front of yellow police tape blocking off the crime scene.

The grisly murder of Keny Anderson Trochez Garcia in San Pedro Sula made the front page of Honduran newspapers last year. Trochez Garcia was killed, decapitated and his heart removed from his body in February 2018. He was 18 years old.

Trochez Garcia worked as a minibus driver’s assistant between San Pedro Sula, the regional social security institute hospital, textile factories, and communities north of the city, shuttling workers and nurses between work and home. The 19-year-old minibus driver, Augusto Nery Diaz, was also murdered and decapitated alongside Trochez Garcia.

On her mobile phone, Carla carries photographs of her 18-year-old son, Keny Anderson Trochez Garcia, who was murdered and decapitated [Sandra Cuffe/Al Jazeera] 

Throughout Honduras, the transportation sector is plagued by extortion by gangs and other criminal networks, but killings over non-payment are particularly frequent along routes between San Pedro Sula, Choloma, and Puerto Cortes. Extortion payments are often a burden shared between owners, drivers and helpers, but that was not the case for Trochez Garcia and Diaz. 

“The owner said he was making the extortion payments. He never paid anything,” said Carla, Trochez Garcia’s mother.

Carla said neighbours warned her not to, but she filed a formal report to Honduran prosecutors when it appeared to her that no real investigation was taking place. She could not just do nothing, she told Al Jazeera. Soon after, she and her whole family began receiving threats.

Carla, her husband, and three of their children fled Honduras months before the high-profile caravan groups. The family has already been granted temporary protection by COMAR, but she was back at the commission offices to request the addition to the case of another daughter who recently made it out of Honduras to join the family in Tapachula.

The protection status is not full asylum, and the family is not entirely sure what their future holds. A United States policy announced in June by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed US border personnel to “generally” deny asylum claims grounded in gang violence or domestic violence, considering them personal matters. But a federal court struck that policy down last month.

On her mobile phone, Carla carries photographs of her 18-year-old son, Keny Anderson Trochez Garcia, who was murdered and decapitated earlier last year [Sandra Cuffe/Al Jazeera] 

Next steps unclear

Elsa Santos is not sure what her family will do either. Some of her relatives had already fled gang violence in Honduras months before the caravans. Santos and her husband left with the first wave of the public exodus in October, fleeing political violence.

Al Jazeera first met Santos on October 15, shortly after the first wave of the Honduran exodus had entered Guatemala. Santos and her husband had walked with the crowd from the border to a kilometer or two before reaching Esquipulas. Guatemalan police officers were blocking the highway to prevent the Hondurans from making it to town.

Most people had not eaten all day, and there was limited water to go around, so individuals prioritised giving it to families with babies and small children. A few people were so exhausted that they laid down in the thick, tall grass along one side of the highway. 

Santos has never wanted or planned to leave Honduras. She loves the country and has been involved for years in different social movement struggles in and around El Progreso, 30km southeast of San Pedro Sula. But everything changed for Santos last year.

“I received death threats,” she told Al Jazeera.

Santos and other residents in the Colonia Aleman neighbourhood were engaged in a conflict with the mayor of the El Progreso over the title to the community’s lands. On September 23, 2017, a gunshot was fired outside Santos’ house. That same day, another woman involved in the land title dispute was killed.

“I was traumatised for quite some time,” said Santos, her voice breaking slightly.

Santos left home the next day. She and her husband hid out in another part of the country. Santos and the Colonia Aleman community council filed reports with authorities, but more than a year later, there has been no progress, she said. At one police station, officers told her others no longer there had taken the report and that the file was lost, she said.

Santos places the blame squarely at the feet of municipal government officials and Honduran President Hernandez. 

“The government is the one violating our rights,” she said.

Now in Tapachula, Santos and her husband are making the best of the situation while they wait for the outcome of the refugee status consideration process.

They have been lucky, she told Al Jazeera this month, sitting on a bench in the city’s central park. Her husband found work in security at a local bar, and Santos, who worked as a seamstress in Honduras, is waiting to hear back this coming week about a job helping a local Tapachula seamstress.

Santos, Carbajal, and the thousands of other Central Americans from the exodus whose refugee status is under consideration in Tapachula were set to find out the outcomes of their cases this month, but Mexican authorities extended the process another 45 business days.

*Al Jazeera has changed the individual’s name for security reasons. She requested that only her deceased son’s real name be included.


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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic





TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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Canada: Significant Changes To Canada’s Federal Environmental Protection Regime Proposed





On April 13, 2021, the government of Canada proposed significant changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (“CEPA”)1 through the introduction of Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (the “Amendments“).2

With these Amendments, the government hopes to modernize Canada’s environmental regime which has not undergone significant change in over 20 years. CEPA is the primary statute through which the federal government regulates and protects the environment. CEPA and its accompanying regulations regulate among other things the treatment and disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste, vehicle and engine emissions, equipment and other sources of pollution, and the prevention and impact of environmental emergencies such as oil and chemical spills.

This bulletin provides an overview of the major changes to CEPA that have been proposed.

The Right to a Healthy Environment and Certain Soft Rights

Significantly, the Preamble under the Amendments will officially recognize Canadians’ right to a healthy environment. Section 2 of CEPA will require the government to protect that right when making decisions relating to the environment.3

The Amendments set out specific obligations the government must undertake to safeguard this right, including developing an implementation framework to set out how this right will be considered in the administration of CEPA as well as conducting research, studies and monitoring activities to support this goal.

In addition, the Preamble will recognize some additional considerations, including confirming the government’s commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as well as recognizing the importance of considering vulnerable persons, reducing or replacing the use of animal testing, and the right of Canadians to have access to information on product labels.

Project Impact Assessment

With respect to risk assessments under CEPA, under the new provisions the federal government must consider impacts on vulnerable populations and possible cumulative effects of the proposed conduct. Vulnerable populations will include groups of people with elevated biological susceptibility, such as children, and groups with elevated exposure risks, such an indigenous communities. Consideration of cumulative effects of proposed conduct takes a holistic approach to substance management by considering the compounding risks of exposure to various chemicals during daily life rather than looking at substances on their own.

Chemicals Management

The federal government has identified the management of chemicals as a key target area under the new CEPA.

The Amendments thus propose to overhaul this regime in order to better protect Canadians from the evolving risks of harmful chemicals and pollution. To accomplish this, the government has proposed wide ranging changes relating to risk assessment, public accountability, management of toxic substances and new substances, which are discussed in turn below.

Risk Assessment

The government must consult, develop and publish a Plan of Chemicals Management Priorities which will set out an integrated plan for the risk assessment of various chemical substances currently being used in Canada. The Plan will establish priorities for the management of substances, taking into account a number of factors including among others the views of stakeholders and partners, public comments, the effects on vulnerable populations, the toxicity of the substance, the ability to disrupt biological reproduction or endocrine systems, and whether there are safer and more sustainable alternatives.4 The government will also be empowered to make geographically targeted regulations to address pollution “hot spots”.

Additionally, the Amendments will establish a mechanism through which any person can submit a request to the Minister to assess a substance to determine its toxicity and risk to the environment. The Minister must provide a response within 90 days, indicating whether they intend to assess the substances and their reasons for their decision.

Public Accountability Framework

The Amendments intend to increase transparency and public participation in risk assessments by the government for the categorization and management of potentially toxic chemicals. Currently, CEPA contains a public accountability framework under section 77 and provides time limits for the government to assess substances under sections 91 and 92. However, these provisions only apply to certain risk assessments being conducted by the government such as substances placed on the Domestic Substances List that in the opinion of the Minister present the greatest potential for exposure to Canadians or are persistent or bio-accumulative. The proposed Amendments plan to amend section 77 to expand these transparency and accountability measures to all substance risk assessments for toxic or capable of being toxic substances, with the exception of assessments for new substances.5

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Scientists, Homalco First Nation team up to probe massive B.C. landslide — and its impact on salmon





When the side of a B.C. mountain gave way on Nov. 28, 2020, crashing into a glacier fed lake and creating a 100-metre high tsunami, no one was around to see the destruction or hear the sound of rocks and trees tearing through the valley below. 

But scientists say the force, which was picked up by seismographs across North America, was the equivalent of a 4.9-magnitude earthquake. 

Fortunately, no one was in the slide’s path, but experts believe that a melting glacier likely contributed by making the slope less stable — and climate change means it is a growing risk. 

As more of Canada’s glaciers recede, scientists say there is great interest in finding out what exactly triggered this slide, and how the rocks and sediment have impacted the salmon population of nearby Elliot Creek and Southgate River. 

The mountain, which is located about 220 km north west of Vancouver, is on the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation. 

It’s an area of remote wilderness, only accessible by air or by boating 80 km up Bute Inlet.

When the slide hit last year, more than 18 million cubic meters of rock barrelled down the slope hitting the lake within 30 seconds. 

“That is the equivalent of all of the cars in Canada coming down the hill at once,” said Marten Geertsema, a geomorphologist who works with the B.C. government studying landslides. 

He is one of several scientists, along with members from the Homalco First Nation, who have been studying the landslide and its cascading environmental impact on the watershed and salmon habitat. 

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