Commissioners: Francisco Eguiguren, Esmeralda A. de Trotiño, Paulo Vannuchi, and Paulo Abrao

Petitioners: Civil Society Organizations from Mexico

State: Mexico

Between 2011 and 2016, Mexico received over a 1000% increase in asylum applications from individuals fleeing poverty, violence, corruption, extortion, and lack of opportunity in their country of origin. The Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a Refugiados (COMAR) projects that Mexico will continue to see increased in applications, estimating that in 2017, Mexico will receive 22,000 asylum applications. Although Mexico has programs to assist people seeking asylum and is party to many international conventions requiring the protection of immigrants and refugees, Mexico’s government is in practice failing to provide support and protection to those seeking asylum within its borders.

Civil society organizations gathered before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to petition help from the Commission and from the Mexican government in addressing this situation. The organizations presented the current state of affairs for people seeking asylum in Mexico for the first time before IACHR during this month’s hearings. The organizations requested help from IACHR and representatives from the state of Mexico in establishing a more effective system providing immigrants and refugees support and protection. Present at the hearings were representatives from civil society organizations including: Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Matías de Córdova; Casa del Migrante de Saltillo; Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes; Asylum Access México; Sin Fronteras, IAP; Instituto de Derechos Humanos Ignacio Ellacuría; Programa de Derechos Humanos, Programa de Asuntos Migratorios y Clínica Jurídica para Refugiados “Alaíde Foppa”, de la Universidad Iberoamericana.

The Petitioners opened the hearing by providing statistics to illustrate the gravity of the human rights violations among refugees seeking asylum in Mexico. In 2016, over 90% of the refugee applications Mexico received came from citizens fleeing violence and persecution in Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador, also commonly referred to as “Central America’s Northern Triangle.” Young girls and boys both unaccompanied and accompanied, business owners fleeing extortion, witnesses that have testified against criminals convicted of serious crimes, and members of the LGBT community are among the most common populations seeking asylum in Mexico. Of the 188,595 people detained in 2016 in Mexico for issues related to immigration, 40,542 were young children or adolescents. Of the young children and adolescents detained, 84% were eventually deported to their respective country of origin, primarily to Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador.

The petitioners cited Mexico’s South Border Program (Plan Integral Frontera Sur) as cause for Mexico’s strict policy of apprehension, detention, and deportation. Petitioners argued this policy and the presented statistics indicate the Mexican government’s principle focus is national security, not the underlying human rights issues causing these individuals to flee from their country of origin. The petitioners highlighted flaws in the implementation and application of the law of refugees and immigration as well as the Mexican government’s failure to uphold its international obligations concerning human rights and rights of refugees. Additionally, the petitioners noted the need to establish programs to help assimilate the refugee population into the local Mexican culture.

Representatives of the state of Mexico pledged to establish a collaborative space for dialogue between the proper authorities in Mexico and the civil society organizations. Together, this collective should develop a plan of action for improving care for the refugee population in Mexico. The representatives emphasized the difficult situation challenging Mexico, as well as other countries in Central and South America, of establishing effective practices to ensure protection for asylum seekers. However, the representatives did acknowledge the positive impact refugees often have on society and the economy of the country in which they seek refuge. For that reason, the representatives reiterated Mexico’s dedication to building bridges, not walls for immigrants and refugees seeking asylum in Mexico.

The commissioners thanked the civil society organizations and the representatives from the state of Mexico for joining the hearing and echoed the need to a collaborative effort to protect the refugee population in Mexico, in particular the young children and adolescents seeking asylum.

Author’s Legal Analysis:

Less than 1% of children apprehended in Mexico by immigration authorities are recognized as refugees. Although the government’s focus on national security and strengthening its borders is a valid concern, the Mexican government cannot secure its nation’s borders at the cost of the lives of refugees seeking asylum within its borders. Under Article 22 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, to which Mexico is a party, Mexico has an obligation to the international community and to the children seeking asylum to provide safety and protection. The Mexican government should establish better methods for ensuring the safety of children and the greater refugee population within its borders.