Heightened risk for people seeking refuge in the Americas

February 19, 2020 – New studies have shined a spotlight on the humanitarian crisis occurring at the United States-Mexico-Central America immigrant corridor. A recent report from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) highlights the dangers faced by asylum seekers who were returned to Mexico from the United States under the “Remain in Mexico” or Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy., Another report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) described the violence, illnesses and traumas migrant children are exposed to when returned to Mexico. The people requesting refuge in Mexico are also facing a lack of protection due to violence. Official figures indicate that in January of this year, 5,936 asylum applications were submitted in Mexico.


In news from Central America, approximately 130,100 Salvadorans have applied for refugee status in 2019 worldwide, according to UNHCR. This figure demonstrates the ongoing lack of protection and risks faced by people in El Salvador.  In a stark example, news reports this week described the case of a young Salvadoran man who died on the U.S.-Mexico border while attempting to escape harassment from gangs in his country of origin.


Conditions in Nicaragua and Venezuela have also raised alarms about the protection and integration needs from people from those countries. According to a recent report by the Migration Policy Institute, massive movements of people migrating from both countries transformed the migration landscape of the region in 2019. The report focuses on the increasing limitations faced by Venezuelan and Nicaraguan people when attempting to integrate into the health and education systems of receiving countries.


Mexico lacks a coherent stance on immigration


Mexico continues to enforce fragmented and contradictory immigration policies. On the one hand, last week a group of 19 legislators made a quick visit to Tapachula, located in the southern part of the country, to assess conditions inside the 21st Century Migration Station, a detention center for migrants. They found multiple violations of migrants’ human rights, especially of girls and boys, and called for reform of Mexico’s migration law.  It is worth noting that one of the legislators calling for those reforms comes from the MORENA party (the party that lifted Andrés Manuel Obrador to the presidency) –who has advocated for free transit of migrants across the country, as opposed to the restrictive policies imposed by the López Obrador administration.


Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard touted the efforts Mexico has made to stop irregular migration, bringing particular attention to the 74% reduction in migration over the past 8 months. However, the tactics of  apprehension, detention and expulsion do not address the structural causes at the root of forced migration, and instead promote and strengthen migrant trafficking and human trafficking.


More information on the region


  • New US budget proposal continues to dismantle social protections The budget approval process in the United States kicked off last week with President Trump’s proposal to Congress. Although budgets are never approved as presented by the executive branch, the proposal is often an indicator of the programmatic priorities of the administration. In this case, the proposal cuts social security assistance programs, medical insurance, disability pensions, housing and food assistance, as well as educational credits. This New York Times article  breaks down the budget to show where it has increased or decreased.


  • New NGO Law in Guatemala would restrict civic space-endanger rights defenders

Last week in Guatemala, Congress voted to reform the Law of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to increase organizational oversight. Organizations such as Amnesty International are asking President Alejando Giammattei to veto the law, saying that it could lead to the arbitrary closure of organizations that provide important services to the population as well as deepen the criminalization of those who defend human rights.


  • 4 million euros allocated to refugee integration in Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica

The European Union announced that it will launch a 4 million euros ($4.3 million)program to support refugees’ socio-economic integration in Honduras, Mexico and Costa Rica. The project, a joint effort by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Mexican Commission for Assistance to Refugees (COMAR), seeks to strengthen the employability and skills of refugees as well as their financial integration in these three countries. Although the initiative is an interesting first step, it does not begin to match the scale of the humanitarian crisis taking place in the region. In Mexico alone, there was a 137% increase in requests for asylum last year.

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