Venezuelan migrants seeking asylum wear blankets donated by the Red Cross on the banks of the Rio Grande in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico, on Dec 28, 2022. (PHOTO / AFP)
MEXICO CITY — Mexico's overwhelmed asylum agency is strengthening efforts to weed out high numbers of applicants who "abuse" the system while passing through Mexico to reach the United States, Mexico's top asylum official said on Monday.
Mexico has the world's third highest number of asylum applications after the United States and Germany, reflecting growing numbers of refugee seekers that have strained resources at the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR).
This January, the number more than doubled from the same month in 2022. The claims included 430 from Afghans – a soaring increase from past years
Once migrants request asylum, they are exempt from deportation and are eligible to seek work, motivating many to file applications even without the intent to stay in Mexico, said Andres Ramirez, COMAR's director.
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"It's an abuse of the asylum system," he told reporters at COMAR's busy Mexico City office. "Treating COMAR like a kind of travel agency."
The agency recently began a pilot in the southern city of Tapachula near the Guatemala border, where it has its biggest load of applicants, geared at quickly rejecting cases that do not merit asylum, Ramirez added.
He noted some applicants falsely believe COMAR distributes permits allowing travel within Mexico. In reality, asylum seekers typically must stay in the state where they began their cases.
"This has put us in a situation of near-breakdown," Ramirez told a news conference.
COMAR received close to 119,000 applications last year, slightly fewer than the year before.
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This January, the number more than doubled from the same month in 2022. The claims included 430 from Afghans – a soaring increase from past years.
Yet Ramirez noted many Afghans are unlikely to see out their cases in Mexico, where so many aspects of daily life from religion to food are so different than home.
"Many Afghans do not necessary want to stay in Mexico," he said. "In the United States, there's a much bigger Afghan community than what we have here."