Last Updated: Monday, 23 October 2017, 15:25 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Mexico

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Mexico , 20 June 2001, available at: [accessed 24 October 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 2000, the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) estimated that about 6,500 persons were refugees or asylum seekers in need of protection in Mexico, including: 277 refugees granted asylum during the year; 11 asylum seekers whose cases were pending at year's end; and approximately 4,000 Guatemalans, 2,000 Salvadorans, and 200 persons from various countries.

USCR no longer regards the vast majority of the approximately 16,000 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.

During the year, 277 asylum seekers filed claims in Mexico. Of these, 78 were granted refugee status and 156 were rejected; 11 were pending at the end of the year. The largest groups of recognized refugees came from Iran (13) and Somalia (12). Others were from Guatemala, Colombia, Iraq, and 13 other countries. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 50 individuals voluntarily repatriated during 2000, mostly to Guatemala.

Approximately 16,000 Mexicans remained internally displaced in Chiapas.


In April, 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. At the same time, Mexico adopted regulations that included establishing new asylum procedures.

UNHCR began training the government organizations responsible for conducting refugee status determinations. However, UNHCR agreed to continue to conduct status determinations until the government is able to take over the responsibility.

Under the new procedures, an asylum seeker must file an asylum application within 15 days of entering Mexico. Sin Fronteras, UNHCR's nongovernmental implementing partner in Mexico City, contended that many asylum seekers would be unable to meet this filing requirement and could therefore be denied refugee protection.

The asylum application is first considered by a newly created eligibility committee. Within 15 days of receiving the application, the eligibility committee recommends to the National Institute of Migration whether to grant or deny refugee status. The asylum seeker may file for administrative review within 15 days; the review panel must make a final decision within five days. There is no judicial review. The entire refugee status determination procedure is designed to be concluded within 50 days.

The new regulations also list factors that preclude an asylum seeker from refugee protection. An asylum seeker may not be granted asylum if he or she: 1) was prosecuted as a result of having committed a common crime; 2) is in extradition proceedings; 3) migrated for economic reasons; 4) arrived from a third country that denied the individual asylum; 5) previously acquired immigrant status in Mexico; or 6) did not file an asylum application within 15 days of entering Mexico (with limited exceptions).

Mexico detained 174 of the 277 asylum seekers who filed applications in 2000. Asylum seekers are held at an immigration detention facility in Mexico City. According to UNHCR, detention conditions are "acceptable."

In October, the Mexican government forcibly repatriated Pedro Riera Escalante, a former Cuban intelligence official. Although Riera sought asylum in Mexico, Mexican immigration officials claimed he filed his asylum request with the wrong government agency and that he did not have proper documentation to remain in Mexico. Riera was seized in the street and flown to Havana without an asylum hearing.


The 1996 peace accord that marked the official end of Guatemala's long and bloody civil war accelerated Guatemalan refugees' repatriation and marked the beginning of a program to naturalize refugees who chose to remain in Mexico.

From 1984 to the conclusion of the repatriation program in September 2000, more than 43,000 refugees returned to Guatemala. Some 23,000 – half born in Mexico – will remain in Mexico. Some 8,000 had become Mexican citizens by the end of 2000; many more were already permanent residents; and others were in the process of becoming permanent residents and citizens.

In October, the European Union agreed to finance projects to integrate Guatemalan refugees into Mexican society. The funding will assist approximately 60,000 Guatemalans to obtain jobs and land in Mexico. Despite their 18 years in Mexico, the majority of Guatemalans continued to rely heavily on humanitarian aid in 2000.

Internal Displacement

Internal displacement began when conflict broke out in the southern state of Chiapas in early 1994. The conflict between the Mexican military and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (the EZLN, or Zapatistas), an insurgent group, had displaced thousands of indigenous people by the end of 2000. Other insurgent groups were active in Chiapas and elsewhere in Mexico. Paramilitary groups opposing them have also emerged.

Although reports of the number of the displaced in Chiapas vary widely, 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.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which provides assistance to approximately 10,000 displaced persons in Chiapas, said in April that thousands of the displaced were suffering food shortages and malnutrition. The ICRC donated 80 percent of the displaced population's food, while the displaced produced the other 20 percent themselves on land they were slowly acquiring.

In April, 700 displaced persons returned to their homes after receiving safety assurances and promises of assistance from the government. They had been displaced for three years. Some 300 others returned home to another village in October.

However, in 2000, violence continued in Chiapas, and in August, hundreds of indigenous people staged a march to ask the government to take action against the paramilitary groups and to fulfill its commitment to pay indemnification to the displaced. In October, indigenous people began an 800-mile march to protest living conditions and their inability to return home.

Change in Government

In July elections, Mexicans ended the Institutional Revolutionary Party's (PRI) 71-year control of the presidency and elected Vicente Fox Quesada, a member of the center-right National Action Party (PAN), as president.

Immediately after his election victory, Fox said that he planned to resume peace talks with Zapatista rebels in Chiapas. In his first days in office, Fox withdrew tens of thousands of army troops from roadside checkpoints in Chiapas and promised to send legislation to Congress calling for enactment of the never-ratified 1996 San Andres peace accord between the EZLN and the government, in which the government recognized the need to expand the rights of indigenous people.

In response, EZLN rebel leader Subcommander Marcos made his first conciliatory statements toward the Mexican government in years. He said Fox's statements and actions were a positive sign, and added that the EZLN was willing to negotiate for peace. Potential obstacles to a peace agreement included a divided congress, which would have to ratify any peace deal, and the difficulty of controlling the paramilitaries, who continued to perpetrate acts of violence against indigenous populations.

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