After a surge in asylum applications and the lowest budget in years, Mexico’s small refugee agency has turned to the United Nations for help opening three new offices across the country starting next month, its director said on Tuesday.
Mexico is on track for 60,000 asylum applications this year, double 2018 applications, said Andres Ramirez, the head of the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR).
The increase is the result of a surge in people fleeing Central American countries, as well as Cuba.
The number of undocumented migrants reaching the U.S. border is the highest in a decade, triggering threats from Donald Trump to impose tariffs and sanctions against Mexico if it does not do more to stop the migrants.
Ramírez, who served 28 years with the U.N. refugee agency before joining the administration of President López Obrador, said COMAR was so overwhelmed had he turned to his former employer for help.
“We at COMAR are simply trying to survive,” said Ramirez in an interview with Reuters.
Besides the rising number of applications, which has doubled for three years in a row, COMAR is facing its lowest funding in seven years, with a budget of USD $ 1.2 million, as the government tries to implement austerity in all departments.
“Our central issue is a concern with resources, we are fighting for them, we are struggling for them but we can not self-finance,” said Ramirez.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is offering financial support and staff that will enable COMAR to open offices to deal with the surge, he said.
The first new offices will be located in Tijuana, Monterrey, and Palenque, located in the southern border state of Chiapas where the vast majority of Central American migrants cross into Mexico from Guatemala.
The new offices would double COMAR’s current number. Ramirez said the UNHCR support included the secondment of about 30 people to supplement COMAR’s 48-person nationwide staff.
Mexico, a new refugee destination
The budget cuts complicate Mexico’s ability to welcome asylum seekers as it emerges as a destination as well as a transit country. Mexico received tens of thousands of Central American refugees during the region’s Cold War conflicts.
At the COMAR office in Tapachula, Chiapas state, the opportunity to seek an interview with COMAR staff has reached a premium that can sell for USD $ 11 to give people a headstart in lines that stretch three blocks.
Ramirez said he told the staff about the 12-hour days to avoid exhaustion.
The Lopez Obrador administration handed out at least 12,000 year-long humanitarian visas to Central Americans expected to stay in Mexico. Many quickly moved to the U.S. border.
After it stopped the program within weeks, overwhelmed and facing threats from Trump to shut the border, more migrants have applied for asylum in Tapachula, COMAR staff say.
So far, from January to April 2019, Mexican authorities have received 18,365 asylum requests.
Source: El Universal