Last Updated: Thursday, 14 December 2017, 13:52 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Mexico

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Mexico , 1 June 2003, available at: [accessed 15 December 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 2002, there were 4,000 refugees or asylum seekers in need of protection in Mexico. During the year, 243 asylum seekers filed claims in Mexico. Mexico granted asylum to 57 applicants, rejected 110, and had 12 cases pending at year's end; 64 applicants withdrew their asylum claims. The largest groups of recognized refugees were Salvadorans (about 1,900) and Guatemalans (about 1,000), most of whom lived in urban centers. During the year, Mexico granted citizenship to 72 urban refugees.

In 2002, some 22,100 Mexicans sought asylum in other countries, 20,000 of them in the United States (which approved 88) and the other 2,100 in Canada (which approved 290). Most Mexicans who applied in the United States before the Immigration and Naturalization Service did so after the one-year filing deadline for asylum cases. This triggered removal proceedings where many pursued forms of relief unrelated to asylum but only available in such proceedings. Approximately 15,000 Mexicans remained internally displaced in Chiapas.


Mexico ratified the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol in 2000. In 2001, the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR), a government agency, began making refugee status determinations, a function previously handled by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In 2002, UNHCR provided COMAR with training and technical support for its refugee status determination process. Asylum applications dropped by 41 percent after the government took over refugee determination. According to Sinfronteras, a Mexican non-governmental organization (NGO), many would-be asylum seekers appeared to be less comfortable divulging their protection concerns to a Mexican government agency than to UNHCR.

Refugees in Mexico generally enjoy economic, social, and cultural rights equal to those of nationals, and refugee children enroll in Mexican schools. Individuals granted refugee status can remain in Mexico indefinitely and most can apply for citizenship after five years. UNHCR provides temporary assistance to newly recognized refugees and extended assistance to especially vulnerable refugees.

According to Sinfronteras, many of the recognized refugees in Mexico initially intended to reach the United States or Canada, but applied for asylum in Mexico after being apprehended by the Mexican authorities. Many refugees find it difficult to integrate in Mexico and do not remain in Mexico long-term. An estimated 70 to 80 percent of recognized refugees migrate by their own means to the United States or Canada.

Mexico detains asylum seekers who enter the country without valid entry visas at the Migration Holding Center in Mexico City. In 2001, UNHCR and local NGOs alleged that detention conditions were unsatisfactory and did not meet international minimum standards. Following an October 2002 government investigation, the authorities dismissed some officials and improved conditions, at least for asylum seekers. Detainees at the center have access to COMAR and UNHCR officials. The authorities release those who are determined to be refugees.

In 2001, Mexico initiated the "Southern Plan" (Plan Sur), a program aimed at stemming the number of unauthorized border crossers from Central America and countries outside the region. Under Plan Sur, Mexico deployed thousands of troops to the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca to conduct border patrols and checks. According to local NGOs, the authorities immediately return some of the intercepted migrants to Guatemala, and detain and subsequently return others to their home countries without any assessment of their protection needs. The United States helped to fund the deportations of such migrants. In 2002, UNHCR opened an office in Tapachula, near the border with Guatemala, to "ensure access to protection of refugees and asylum seekers in the midst of migration flows."

In May 2002, a boat carrying seven Cuban asylum seekers landed in Mexico. Mexican authorities rescued another five Cuban rafters in Mexican waters in June. After briefly detaining them, the Mexican authorities permitted the Cubans to apply for asylum in Mexico. Some of the Cubans subsequently abandoned their claims and observers believe that they may have gone to the United States. The Cuban government, which urged Mexico to return the asylum seekers to Cuba, reportedly initiated discussions with Mexico regarding an agreement to return asylum seekers in the future.

Also in May, the Mexican government completed the process of providing land titles to 12,000 fully integrated former refugees from Guatemala who remained in Mexico's Campeche State. In June, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History opened a new museum near Campeche that commemorates the experience of Guatemalan refugees in Mexico and celebrates their contribution to the local culture and society.

Internally Displaced Persons

In 1994, conflict broke out in the southern state of Chiapas between insurgents associated with the leftist Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), the Mexican army, and paramilitary groups causing thousands to become internally displaced.

Active fighting between the government and EZLN ended in 1996, when the two parties signed accords that promised reforms. Mexico's Congress later amended the accords, thereby stalling progress toward peace and creating a situation where the displaced are unable to return to their homes. Violence against civilians continues in the region, particularly at the hands of paramilitary groups, which killed four prominent EZLN supporters during the year.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees estimates that approximately 12,000 persons remain displaced in Chiapas. Some 1,300 to 2,000 displaced persons returned home beginning in August 2001, despite concerns for their safety and ability to survive. The UN's Special Representative for Internally Displaced Persons visited Mexico in August and found that the displaced continue to lack adequate assistance. The special representative stressed the need to reactivate the peace process so that the displaced can return home. He also urged the government to formulate concrete policies regarding internal displacement and to seek UN agencies' cooperation in responding to the needs of the displaced.

In November, the International Committee of the Red Cross reduced its aid to displaced persons in Chiapas by half, citing improved conditions in Chiapas and the return home of some of the displaced.

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