TREND: In the past four years, demand for humanitarian protection in Mexico has increased significantly as families and children represented increasing shares of migrants traveling to the United States. The recent series of U.S. policies implemented by the Trump administration narrowing access to asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, combined with heightened Mexican enforcement, have contributed to this increase in asylum applications.
• In 2016, Mexico’s Commission for Refugee Aid (COMAR) received about 9,000 asylum requests. From 2017 to 2019, asylum applications doubled each year reaching a historic high of approximately 71,000 requests according to COMAR data, straining its already limited processing capacity. Nearly two-thirds of the requests were submitted in the state of Chiapas on the Mexico-Guatemala border, and the majority were submitted in the summer during the peak of enforcement actions in Mexico.
• This upward trend was set to continue in 2020 before the onset of Covid-19. Between January and March 2020, COMAR received about 17,000 asylum requests, representing an increase of 35 percent compared to the same period in 2019. Yet in April 2020 the number of requests dropped drastically to 949 compared to the 6,000 asylum applications filled in April 2019. This 83 percent decrease is likely a result of border closure measures, travel restrictions, and strict lockdowns by some Central American countries.
• Over the past three years, Hondurans have made up the largest share of asylum applications in Mexico, ranging between 46 to 32 percent between 2018 and 2020, followed by Venezuelans and Salvadorans. The proportion of asylum seekers from Haiti and Cuba has also increased over the past two years, and they made up one third of those seeking asylum in the Mexico between January and April 2020.
• However, protection grant rates vary significantly by nationality. From 2018 to 2020, nearly 99 percent of Venezuelan asylum seekers were granted refugee status or complementary protection, allowing them to stay in Mexico. In contrast, an average of 54 percent of asylum requests by Guatemalans were approved, lagging behind those of Honduran and Salvadoran asylum seekers, who had average approval rates of 75 and 81 percent, respectively. In contrast, Cuban asylum seekers have lowest approval with only one in five receiving protection.
TAKEAWAY: The migration landscape in Mexico is evolving. Although considered traditionally an emigrant-sending or a transit country, Mexico is slowly becoming a destination for a substantial number of people are seeking refuge. However, it is likely that amid the pandemic, the number of asylum applications continues to remain low. Based on the above trends, it is clear that the drop is a result of the current restricted mobility environment rather than a sudden change in the country conditions asylum seekers are fleeing. The series of measures restricting mobility across borders to halt the spread of Covid-19 raises additional challenges for people in need of protection. In this context, it will be imperative for Mexico and other countries to develop innovative mechanisms to ensure people have access to these channels.
* Spotlight by Andrea Tanco & Ariel Ruiz, Associate Policy Analysts at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute (MPI). MPI seeks to improve immigration and integration policies through authoritative research and analysis, opportunities for learning and dialogue, and the development of new ideas to address complex policy questions. Twitter: @migrationpolicy