MEXICO CITY – With a 154.6 percent increase in asylum petitions in 2016, Mexico has gone from being a transit country to a possible destination for refugees, a trend that figures to continue and even accelerate under the policies of the current president of the United States.
After receiving just 3,424 asylum requests in 2015, that number jumped to 8,781 in 2016, according to figures from the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (Comar).
Most of those asylum petitions – 86.6 percent – came from Honduras and El Salvador.
“We could have around 20,000 requests” in 2017, considering the growth in recent months and the fact that the level of violence in the countries of origin has not fallen, the head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR’s) protection unit in Mexico, Jose Francisco Sieber, told EFE.
Mexico has legislation on the books that makes it a viable option for thousands of people making the dangerous trek every year to the US, but who are now seeing that nation closing its doors to immigration.
Recent measures include the cancelation in the waning days of Barack Obama’s presidency of a practice that gave undocumented Cuban migrants who reached US soil the right to remain and become permanent residents.
After taking office on Jan. 20, one of President Donald Trump’s first moves was to issue an executive order that decreed a temporary pause in the admission of refugees, in addition to a 90-day prohibition on entry by residents of seven Muslim-majority countries and an indefinite suspension of the admission of Syrian refugees.
A US district judge in Seattle blocked that Jan. 27 measure, a ruling subsequently upheld by a three-judge panel of the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Trump is expected to issue a new reworked temporary travel ban shortly.
The measures of the neighboring country – which also include plans to build a wall spanning the entire US-Mexico border – provide challenges and opportunities for Mexico, migrant rights advocate Irazu Gomez said.
“Mexico has the chance to provide a different, comprehensive, response ... that doesn’t discriminate, that doesn’t exclude the migrant population,” she said.
Gomez said the Mexican government thus far has focused its response on the possible return of undocumented Mexican migrants deported by Trump’s administration, but it has not yet contemplated a comprehensive strategy aimed at the refugee population.