This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Aikaterini Kitidi – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is supporting Mexico to strengthen and expand its asylum procedures, amid a sharp increase in the number of people seeking asylum in the country.
In the first quarter of 2021, Mexico’s Commission for Refugee Assistance, COMAR, registered 22,606 new asylum applications. This was 31 per cent more than in the first quarter of 2020 and a 77 per cent increase from the same period in 2019. March 2021 marked an all-time high for monthly asylum claims, as they reached 9,076.
It continues a pre-pandemic upward trend that started in 2014, as the country expanded its capacity to process asylum claims and integrate refugees. Between 2014 and 2019, the number of asylum claims registered in Mexico jumped from 2,137 to 70,302 – an increase by over 3,000 per cent.
Last year marked a break in the rising trend, when COVID-19-related movement restrictions and border closures led to a significant drop in asylum applications. As countries eased restrictions, asylum claims in Mexico resumed their pre-pandemic upward trajectory.
The majority of asylum applications are related to violence affecting hundreds of thousands of people in parts of Central America, including threats, forced recruitment, extortion, sexual violence and murder. It is also an indication of the significant efforts Mexico is making to offer protection to those fleeing for their lives.
In anticipation of rising asylum numbers, since 2018 UNHCR has helped boost COMAR’s registration and case processing capacity, including through secondment of contractors and support to open a new processing center in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula in Chiapas.
We have also scaled up our own programmes to assist asylum seekers while their claims are being considered, and to help recognized refugees integrate into their host communities. Among others, we launched an innovative programme under which refugees are relocated and able to take advantage of job and educational opportunities in cities in central and northern Mexico.
Moreover, we are offering additional support to increase the capacity of more than 30 civil society shelters. In late 2020, UNHCR completed the construction of a new 300-bed shelter for asylum seekers and refugees in Tapachula. In 2021, UNHCR will complete the construction of a new shelter in the northern city of Monterrey for 80 persons, and another in San Cristobal de las Casas in southern Mexico for 100. More than 70 per cent of asylum claims in Mexico are made in the south, especially in Chiapas state.
Looking ahead in 2021, the needs are expected to remain high and we plan to continue supporting with shelter, access to asylum and relocation assistance, amongst other forms of aid. While Mexico was once considered a transit country for many of those fleeing from Central America, the recent rise in asylum claims confirms it has also become a place where many refugees can find protection and restart their lives.