Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2017, 11:39 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Mexico

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Mexico , 1 June 2000, available at: [accessed 25 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


At the end of 1999, the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) estimated that about 8,500 persons‹about 3,500 "urban" and 5,000 "rural"‹were refugees or asylum seekers in need of protection in Mexico. During the year, 250 asylum seekers filed claims in Mexico. Of these, 103 were granted refugee status, but 40 left Mexico by the end of the year. The largest groups of recognized refugees came from Congo Brazzaville (20), Somalia (17), and other African countries (21). There were no cases pending at the end of 1999.

The refugee population included 3,472 recognized "urban refugees" (refugees not in camps) who arrived from Guatemala and El Salvador during the wars in those countries in the 1980s. The more recent arrivals were mostly from other Latin American countries, the Middle East, and Africa.

Mexico continues to receive increasing numbers of asylum seekers from Africa, the Middle East, and China. In July and August, Mexican police arrested hundreds of undocumented Chinese immigrants from Fujian Province who landed in Mexico while attempting to reach the United States by boat.

USCR no longer regards the vast majority of the approximately 20,000 UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)-identified "rural refugees" (Guatemalans living in camps in southern Mexico) as refugees because they are firmly resettled in Mexico and are either Mexican citizens through birth or naturalization, or permanent residents with the possibility of becoming citizens. USCR estimates that about 5,000 have a continuing need for protection.

About 16,000 persons were internally displaced in the southern state of Chiapas.


In July, the Mexican government announced that it would propose that the senate ratify the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol.

In the absence of legislation and government institutions responsible for carrying out refugee status determinations, UNHCR assesses refugee claims. After granting refugee status, UNHCR presents cases to the National Institute of Migration, which issues nonimmigrant visitor's visas (Migratory Form 3) to the newly recognized refugees. Migratory Form 3 is renewable annually. Refugees holding Migratory Form 3 are permitted to work, but the type of employment is specified and the refugee must apply for a new document to change jobs.

Mexico provides assistance to recognized refugees through Sin Fronteras, UNHCR's implementing partner. Because of language barriers, the lack of employment opportunities, reduced government funding of refugee integration programs, and other barriers, life in Mexico can be difficult for refugees. Of the 103 refugees recognized in Mexico in 1999, more than 40 had "spontaneously resettled" to the United States or Canada by the end of the year.

During the year, Mexico detained 93 asylum seekers. UNHCR negotiated the release of some of the most vulnerable asylum seekers, including pregnant women and children.

(In April 2000, Mexico ratified the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol and the Convention on Statelessness with three reservations: there is no automatic right for refugees to work; the government may assign the place of residence and restrict the freedom of movement of refugees; and the government may expel a refugee for various reasons without the person having access to the courts.)


The situation for Guatemalan refugees in Mexico changed significantly after Guatemalan insurgents and the Guatemalan government signed a peace accord in December 1996. The accord accelerated Guatemalan refugees' repatriation, which had begun in 1993, following the signing of a repatriation agreement in October 1992.

In July, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata visited Mexico to attend a ceremony marking the end of UNHCR's voluntary repatriation program for Guatemalan refugees. At that time, 900 Guatemalan refugees who chose to remain in Mexico became naturalized Mexican citizens, the last repatriation group prepared to leave the country, and UNHCR formally ended aid to Guatemalan communities in Mexico.

In 1999, more than 2,372 Guatemalans repatriated with UNHCR assistance. From 1984 to the conclusion of the repatriation program this year, more than 43,000 refugees returned to Guatemala. Some 23,000 – half born in Mexico – will remain in Mexico. Some are already permanent residents and citizens; others are in the process of becoming permanent residents and citizens.

Internal Displacement

Internal displacement began when conflict broke out in Chiapas in early 1994. The conflict between the Mexican army and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (the EZLN, or Zapatistas), an insurgent group, displaced about 2,000 people that year. Since that time, other insurgent groups have become active in Chiapas and elsewhere in Mexico. Paramilitary groups opposing them have also emerged.

In November, Mary Robinson, UN high commissioner for human rights, expressed strong concern that the government did not adequately protect the human rights of indigenous people in Chiapas.

In 1999, local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) estimated that about 16,000 persons remained displaced in Chiapas because of continuing conflict between government forces and the EZLN.

In September, the government proposed a new initiative to renew stalled peace talks, but the EZLN rejected the government's offer and negotiations remained stalled in 1999.

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