Mexico and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are working to strengthen their cooperation in international protection, as the United States tightens immigration enforcement and Central Americans continue to make their way north.
On Friday, Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs held the first Strategic Dialogue on Protection between the Mexican government and UNHCR. The meeting served as a follow up to commitments announced by President Peña Nieto during the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants, as well as Mexico's commitments under the San Jose Action Statement.
Per a press release by the Mexican government, both parties reiterated their interest in continuing and strengthening actions in the country and in the region to "ensure the protection of refugees, beneficiaries of complementary protection, and applicants for refugee status." More specifically, they discussed progress, efforts, and challenges regarding access to fair and efficient procedures for the recognition of refugee status, alternatives to detention for asylum-seekers, and the local integration of refugees throughout the country. Concerning local integration, UNHCR suggested that it must include access to the labor market and basic services.
UNHCR officials pointed to the increasing number of Central Americans seeking asylum in Mexico as a "wake up call" to the need to be better prepared to respond. Between 2015 and 2016 both the number of applications and approval rate for refugee status increased in Mexico.
However, as the number of applications in 2017 is expected to more than double, it remains to be seen if the Mexican government will uphold its commitments and continue to increase approval rates, or tighten enforcement at its own southern border.