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Over the last decade, Central America has been experiencing an ongoing refugee crisis. Generalized violence threaten people from the “Northern Triangle” countries, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, causing them to flee to Mexico and elsewhere. Mexico maintains the practice of routinely forcing these refugees out of Mexico and back to their home countries, violating the non-refoulement principle. According to the UN Refugee Agency, under Article 33 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the non-refoulement principle requires that no country “expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

Systemic violence has plagued the region since the 1980s, during which the three countries experienced violent civil wars. Even after the conflicts ended, war criminals escaped prosecution, and a new wave of gang violence and corruption began. In 2016, people fled and died at the same rate as they did during the country’s twelve-year civil war. In fact, the gangs, often called maras, use the same assault weapons from the civil wars when waging violence. Today, maras have made the Northern Triangle one of the most dangerous areas in the world. With increased border protections preventing asylum-seekers from staying in the United States, more and more of these people seek asylum in Mexico. Amnesty International found that forty percent of those detained by Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM) [National Institute of Migration] expressed valid testimony that refoulement occurred, while seventy-five percent of detainees were not informed of their right to seek asylum in Mexico.

Mexican law requires INM agents to inform asylum seekers of their rights. This law was enacted as a safeguard against refoulement and to ensure proper protection for those seeking asylum. Instead of abiding by the law, INM agents regularly coerce migrants to sign “voluntary return” papers, which essentially permits their deportation. One man recalled a conversation with an INM official; the official said “if you don’t sign here, we won’t give you food, you won’t be able to have a shower. We will treat you like you don’t exist.”

In response to a Honduran man expressing fear of returning to Honduras, an INM agent said “[h]ere we are not interested in your lives. Our job is to deport you.” Another man was murdered by a gang just three weeks after being illegally deported back to Honduras by the INM; he was an employee of the Honduran transport industry, a group specifically outlined by the UNHCR as a targeted group in Honduras. Mexico ratified the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol and, as such, is required to follow the law established therein.

Amnesty International recommends that the President of Mexico and INM implement measures to prevent further violations of the non-refoulement principle. Amnesty International’s main recommendation relates to INM’s screening processes. INM should adopt and implement a systemic review of its screening processes to ensure that detained asylum-seekers know their rights. Further, the review would curb refoulement and promote a system that properly identifies detainees as asylum seekers. According to UNHCR Mexico, detention limits the access to Mexico’s asylum system and procedures. Specifically, prolonged detention, lack of available alternatives, and inadequate conditions all undermine the asylum system and make it more difficult for those detained to be granted asylum.  This problem has persisted in Mexico for years; the UNCHR National Action Plan is already several years old, and it appears as if this problem is going to continue to persist, given new talks between Mexico and the United States. By barring asylum-seekers from entering the United States, it makes it more difficult for asylum-seekers to escape violence and strains Mexico’s immigration system as well. If more people seek asylum in Mexico, it is very likely that the violations of the non-refoulement principle will get worse.