Amid a surge in demand from asylum seekers in Mexico, the country’s tiny refugee agency has turned to the United Nations for assistance to open three new offices.
The Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (Comar) received 18,365 requests for asylum in the first four months of this year as Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence and migrants from further afield continued to stream into the country.
Comar chief Andrés Ramírez told the news agency Reuters that Mexico is on track for 60,000 asylum applications this year – double the number received in 2018.
Ramírez said the organization is so overwhelmed that he asked his former employer, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), for help.
“We at Comar are simply trying to survive,” he said, adding that “our central issue is a concern with resources – we are fighting for them, we are struggling for them but we can’t self-finance, we don’t have the capacity in our hands alone to revolve this.”
The commission is facing its lowest funding in seven years as a result of the federal government’s austerity plan, Reuters said. Its 2019 budget is just US $1.2 million, or $20 for each asylum application it expects to receive.
However, the UNHCR is offering financial assistance and staff that will allow Comar to open three new offices to deal with the influx of asylum seekers, Ramírez said.
The first new office will open next month in Tijuana, Baja California, where thousands of migrants have been stranded for months as they await the opportunity to seek asylum in the United States.
Offices in Monterrey, Nuevo León, and Palenque, Chiapas, will follow.
The three new offices will double the number currently operated by Comar, and the UNHCR will send 30 staff members to Mexico to supplement the commission’s 48-person workforce, Ramírez said.
But while Comar personnel wait for the UN funding and staff to ease their workloads, they continue to attempt to meet the soaring demand for refugee services.
In Tapachula, Chiapas – a first port of call for migrants who enter Mexico at the border crossing located to the city’s south – sidewalk spots outside the Comar office are sold for 200 pesos (US $11) a pop to give would-be asylum seekers a head start in long lines, Reuters said.
Farther north in Oaxaca, Honduran Omar Quintero and 12 of his family members, including his wife and young child, are among the thousands of Central Americans who have filed applications for asylum in Mexico in recent months.
But like many others, they have been forced to endure long waits to see if they will be allowed to stay in Mexico as refugees.
“Thirteen of us came. We escaped from the gangs and handed ourselves into immigration a month and a half ago. We left our country because they killed my brother and my father, that’s why we want Mexico to give us refuge,” Quintero told the newspaper El Universal.
The massive surge in the arrival of migrants to Mexico – around 300,000 of them traveled through the country in the first three months of the year, according to the interior secretary – has also placed a heavy strain on the limited space and resources of migrant shelters.
In Ciudad Ixtepec, Oaxaca, as many as 300 people a day have arrived at the Hermanos en el Camino (Brothers on the Road) shelter since the first of several large migrant caravans started entering Mexico last October, said employee Daniel Cordero.
“We’ve had to increase our response capacity in terms of food, water and medicine,” other staff members said.