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Central American Refugees in Mexico, Another Drama Invisibilized


May 4, 2017

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Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has noted, through its project serving the Transmigrant population in Mexico, that high levels of criminal and armed violence that are lived in different countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America push each year tens of thousands of people to leave their country to find a less insecure place where their lives and liberty are not threatened.

Multiple testimonies gathered by MSF staff between Transmigrant population in the Mexican territory highlight this serious situation:

"I had to leave because I was wanted to put into the MS18 [Mara Salvatrucha 18] and I do not want, you know? I had to hide and then flee. I just want to be good, my family helped me out, but now I do not know if anyone will help me cross the border [United States]. " 17-year-old teenager from Honduras.

"I left my country because they killed my brother and believe that I'm going to tell the police who did it. Then they went to threaten my mom, so better we came to Mexico. My mom says that here we will ask for help". 15 year old teenager, El Salvador.

This is especially Honduran and Salvadoran families fleeing a virtual "kidnapping" of urban territories and systematic extortions of criminal groups; young men, teenagers and even children are forced to leave their country because of the threat of being recruited as informants or assassins by gang members and maras; adolescents and Honduran girls who avoid being a "war booty" or victims of sexual violence, exploitation or femicide in a context of widespread violence, as reflected in the numbers of homicides citywide that point out San Pedro Sula, Honduras, as the most dangerous city in the world since 2011.

31% of transmigrant patients seen by MSF exhibited one or more factors related to violence as a cause to leave their country. These factors highlighted the direct assaults, extortion, attempted recruitment by maras and criminal gangs and widespread violence.

The MSF teams witness daily the humanitarian crisis that pushes large numbers of migrants to escape through Mexico with the aim of reaching the United States. Although the media and governments insist on speaking of an "immigration problem", what actually we face is a situation of "forced migration" by conditions of violence, which should be addressed from the perspective of the right to asylum and refugee status in countries of transit and destination countries (Mexico and the United States).

The "reasons for leaving their country" which come to light in interviews and psychological consultations carried out by MSF teams, are related to the expulsion factors that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) includes into the list of reasons worthy of consideration to request the recognition of refugee status; and in fact, they have already been registered properly in the Mexican legal framework.

The Law on Refugees and Complementary Protection published on January 27, 2011 contains, among other benefits, recognition of assumptions associated with what MSF and other humanitarian agencies call "Other situations of violence," including those set out in Article 13 , Fraction II: the "generalized violence", the "massive violation of human rights" and "other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order".

It is therefore surprising that under the Law on Refugees, the Mexican State has recognized the refugee status to very few forced migrants from Central America. According to UNHCR statements, although 70% of applicants for refugee status or asylum came from Central America, only 26% was recognized as a refugee. Out of a total of 1,296 applications for recognition of refugee received in Mexico in 2013 only 266 were approved, so of the 883 requests for applications from people of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, they would have recognized less than 150 refugees. This compares with an annual flow of forced migrants estimated to be at least 35 thousand people.

In the United States the figures are not much more encouraging, since during the fiscal year 2013 were accepted 69.930 refugees worldwide, of which only 6% (about 4,000) came from Latin America, many of them of Cuba, a country with a higher priority.

In addition, there is concern that with the implementation of the Southern Border Program, there have triggered the figures of deportations or "repatriation" of Central American citizens, especially from the Northern Triangle countries.

That fact raises serious doubts about compliance with the obligation of the Mexican State for "non-refoulement" (Article 5 of the law or principle of non-refoulement) in front of the well-founded fear of persecution, abuse or torture in their country of origin, as this Mexican law says.

In conclusion, on World Refugee Day 2015 (June 20), MSF invites state, humanitarian, civil actors and international agencies operating in the region:

1. To recognize the existence of a significant flow of "forced migrants" fleeing violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America and whose possible refugee status must be analyzed carefully under international treaties for the protection, signed by Mexico and the United States.

The Mexican State:

2. issue provisions and provide the means for agents responsible for implementing the Law on Refugees and the Migration Act can deal with the processing of applications for refugee status and subsidiary protection seekers from Northern Triangle countries Central America, according to the criteria established in the Law on Refugees and Complementary Protection.

3. Evaluate the compatibility of the components of the Southern Border Program and other national security programs applied in border states with Central American states, which favor “hot” deportations without stating that immigration officials give the opportunity for Central Americans may apply for refugee status.

4. Finally, to establish and implement appropriate protocols for that in a systematically and proactively manner, agents responsible for applying the Immigration Law and the Law on Refugees, inquire with any contact or through interviews with citizens from Central America, any condition that refers involvement by violence and / or well-founded fear of involvement for repatriation.

UNHCR in Mexico and the United Nations System:

5. To provide the Mexican government and Mexican civil society the necessary cooperation to increase rates obtaining refugee status of persons from Central America, in a manner consistent with the level of risk to which they were exposed at the time of escape their countries and the level of risk they would face if they are returned.

Article posted originally on June 20, 2015 in the blog of Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Read in Spanish / Leer en español

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