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2020 Highlights UNHCR Mexico

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The calamity that befell humanity due to COVID-19 had a major impact on the dynamics of forced displacement and migration in Mexico and the region in 2020. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, made major adjustments to its programme to deal with the impact of the pandemic and to prepare for the inevitable increase in asylum claims once movement restrictions in Central America were loosened. It was therefore a year of major disruption but also of continuity, as the long-term trend in increased asylum claims remained.

In March 2020, Mexico declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19. Population movements from Central America decreased due to travel restrictions there. Mexico declared registration of asylum claims an essential activity and the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR) remained open. UNHCR supported COMAR to partially transition to remote processing. Additional technical advice and support were provided to simplify processing, leading to a rise in the number of claims resolved.

Under its global commitment to stay and deliver, UNHCR continued to operate. Where possible, activities such as registration were conducted remotely. Relocations to support local integration were suspended but later resumed under a health protocol developed with WHO. Work with shelters was stepped up to assist them to limit public health risks while continuing to function.

Mexico embarked on a major overhaul of its public health system and, as pledged in the Global Refugee Forum in 2019, new legislation guaranteed access of asylum-seekers and refugees to public health services. To support host communities, UNHCR stepped up support to public hospitals, including delivery of auxiliary ventilators and personal protective equipment in an initiative by the Foreign Ministry together with national and local health authorities.

The root causes of forced displacement in the region remained and UNHCR prepared for an increase in new arrivals in 2021. The Office increased the number of contractors seconded to COMAR. Additional support to child protection authorities was foreseen due to legal reforms which enhanced protection of asylum-seeking children by stipulating they not be subject to detention.

The Office increased the capacity of the local integration programme and was ready to substantially boost the number of beneficiaries. The National Migration Institute streamlined procedures for the issuance of identity documents. UNHCR further expanded its footprint by establishing new offices in Palenque, Guadalajara and Ciudad Juarez and bolstering the protection teams in northern Mexico.

In 2021, key priorities include expanding the number of banks which open accounts for refugees and working with development actors to enhance education and health care in key refugee-hosting locations in southern Mexico.

Mark Manly
May 2021