MEXICO CITY (AP) — The number of people applying for refugee or asylum status in Mexico almost doubled between 2019 and 2021, reaching a historic high of over 130,000, authorities said Monday.
While there was a dip in 2020, that was largely due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In previous years, migrants from other countries had rarely sought protection in Mexico, preferring to make their claims in the United States. But the toughening of border enforcement and the slowdown in U.S. asylum processing has apparently led many to apply for refuge in Mexico.
The Mexican Comission on Refugee Aid, COMAR, said there were 131,448 applications filed in 2021, an 87% increase over the nearly 70,351 filed in 2019. The numbers dipped to around 41,000 in 2020, in part because the coronavirus pandemic made it harder for people to move around or even file applications.
The COMAR said the biggest increase was in the number of applications from Haitians, which grew from 5,500 in 2019 to over 51,000 in 2021.
Hondurans, who in previous years had filed the most claims in Mexico, filed 36,361 applications in 2021, a relatively more modest rise over the 30,082 they filed in 2019.
Almost 90,000 of the131,448 requests for protection were filed in the southern Mexico city of Tapachula, near the Guatemalan border. Migrants have complained of the extremely slow pace of paperwork processing in Tapachula, where COMAR offices are swamped by the huge number of requests.
After migrants tried to stage mass walks out of Tapachula in 2021, the Mexican government agreed to bus some to other cities further north to file claims.
Apart from a program to house Guatemalan refugees near the southern border during that country's 1960-1996 civil war, Mexico has relatively little experience in dealing with so many refugees or asylum seekers.
The United States has also slowed its own asylum process under Title 42, a measure named for a public health law that allows U.S. officials to expel adults and families without an opportunity for asylum.
And the U.S. has begun reinstating the ‘Remain in Mexico’ program, also known as the “Migrant Protection Protocol,” a Trump-era policy to make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court.
The United Nations has urged Mexico to consider granting other, humanitarian visas to ease the overwhelmed refugee agency. Under a pilot program, about 200 Haitians have been offered temporary visas that would allow them to work in Mexico, and a search has been started for companies willing to hire them.
On Dec. 22, Mexico's biggest convenience store chain, Oxxo, wrote “we are hiring migrants from Haiti, giving them an opportunity to start a new life here.”