GENEVA - The United Nations refugee agency is scaling up programs in Mexico to help the country tackle the growing number of asylum applications and assist asylum seekers while their claims are being processed.
The number of people seeking asylum in Mexico has increased dramatically in recent years. Mexico's Commission for Refugee Assistance says that between 2014 and 2019 registered asylum claims jumped from just 2,000 to 70,000 per year - a spike of over 3,000 percent.
The United Nations refugee agency reports that asylum applications dropped significantly throughout most of last year because of COVID-19 border closures and other movement restrictions.
However, UNHCR spokeswoman Aikaterini Kitidi says numbers have risen sharply in the first quarter of this year, reaching an all-time monthly high of more than 9,000 claims in March.
"The majority of asylum applications are related to violence affecting hundreds of thousands of people in parts of Central America, including threats, forced recruitment, extortion, sexual violence and murder. It is also an indication of the significant efforts that Mexico is making to offer protection to those fleeing for their lives," she said.
Kitidi says the UNHCR is working to shrink the huge backlog of asylum claims. She says the agency is helping Mexico expand its asylum procedures by boosting its registration and case processing capacity.
"We have also scaled up our own programs to assist asylum seekers with their claims and to help recognized refugees integrate into their host communities. Among others, we launched an innovative program under which refugees are relocated and able to take advantage of job and educational opportunities in cities in central and northern Mexico," she said.
FILE - Four-year-old Arony Maude from Honduras rests next to her uncle Edgar Omar, also from Honduras, and the rest of her family along a motorway, on their way to the United States, in El Ceibo, Tabasco, Mexico, March 26, 2021
Kitidi says U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has asked the UNHCR for help in ending the Remain in Mexico Program. This program was instituted by former President Donald Trump's administration. It allows U.S. border officers to return non-Mexican asylum seekers to Mexico until their claims are heard in a U.S. immigration court.
This policy has come under intense criticism from human rights activists. They say it exposes thousands of vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers to exploitation, kidnapping, extortion and sexual assault from criminal gangs operating in Mexico.