28 de julho de 2017

idi euaMexico grants asylum to people persecuted for their race, religion, nationality, gender, membership of a social group or political views. But it thinks of itself as a source of migrants rather than a magnet for them. So the rise in the number of refugees is causing consternation.

As Donald Trump hardens the United States’ border, more asylum-seekers opt to stay in Mexico

The Suchiate river is the southernmost stretch of Mexico’s border with Guatemala. At Ciudad Hidalgo there are two ways to cross it. You can use the bridge, which guarantees an encounter with an immigration official. Or you can walk down to the river bank, hire a raft (planks tied to the inner tubes of two tractor wheels) and get yourself punted across. Many passengers are Guatemalans who want to shop in Ciudad Hidalgo, where goods are cheaper. The Mexican border guards ignore the flotilla below them and its duty-dodging cargoes; they bring the town a lot of business.

Such rafts are also popular with Central Americans heading farther north, to the United States. But their number has dropped in recent months, says Alexander, who has piloted a raft for four years. Occupancy at the Casa del Migrante in nearby Tapachula has fallen by more than a third since 2016, says Julver Gordillo, who works at the hostel. Immigration police are catching far fewer Central Americans without the right documents this year (see chart).

The deterrent is Donald Trump. His administration’s temporary ban on refugees, increase in the deportations of unlawful migrants and plans to build a border wall have put off would-be migrants. “He’s been good at scaring people,” says Gustavo Mohar, a former Mexican undersecretary for migration, population and religious affairs. Since Mr Trump took office arrests of migrants at the United States’ southern border, half of whom are Central Americans, have dropped dramatically.

But some people from Central America’s poor and violent “northern triangle”—El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras—dare not stay at home, regardless of the frosty reception that would await them in the United States. For some of those, Mexico is a destination rather than a corridor. Maria (not her real name), who is living at a migrant hostel in Mexico City, fled Guatemala with her two children early this year after her husband, who has gang connections, nearly killed her. He was sent to prison, but Maria fears he will carry out his threat to try again. She will not attempt to enter the United States. “As long as I feel safe we’ll stay here,” she says.

Central Americans are making that choice in growing numbers. To stay in Mexico legally, most have to apply for asylum. In the first six months of this year 7,000 migrants, almost all Central Americans, requested asylum. That compares with 9,000 for all of 2016. Liduvina Magarín, El Salvador’s deputy minister for Salvadoreans living abroad, says that around 90% of countrymen whom she met on a recent tour of Mexican migrant shelters were planning to request asylum there.

Mexico faces nothing like the influx that Europe has recently experienced. Germany, whose population and territory are much smaller, had 750,000 asylum requests in 2016. In theory, Mexico is just as welcoming. It grants asylum to people persecuted for their race, religion, nationality, gender, membership of a social group or political views. But it thinks of itself as a source of migrants rather than a magnet for them. So the rise in the number of refugees is causing consternation.

Typical of the river-crossers who now propose to stay in Mexico is “Carlos”, who fled Honduras after refusing to carry out a “mission” for a gang. He wants to find work in northern Mexico but has taken shelter in Tapachula while he awaits a decision on his asylum application. A decade ago such fugitives were almost all men, but as gangs increasingly threaten their enemies’ relatives, women and children have joined the exodus. Under Mexican law, a member of a family that has been threatened by a gang may qualify as belonging to a persecuted social group.

Mexico’s attractions include a shared language and communities of compatriots. Perhaps 300,000 Central Americans live in Mexico (compared with more than 3m in the United States). Mexico processes asylum requests much faster than the United States and Canada do.

But its welcome is cooler than that suggests. Speedy asylum decisions are not necessarily fair. “The government has prioritised detaining and deporting migrants as soon as possible—and is not ensuring they get properly screened,” says Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), an NGO. In 2014 Mexico deported 77 out of every 100 unaccompanied children it caught; in the same year the United States sent back just three. Migrants encounter discrimination and are often robbed. Violence against migrants is “chronic” and is rarely punished, says a recent report by WOLA. According to some estimates, more than half of female migrants from Central America are victims of sexual assault.

The country has not always been hostile terrain for outsiders. In the mid-19th century it admitted thousands of fugitive slaves from the United States; under the constitution of the time they became free when they set foot on Mexican soil. From 1939 to 1942, when Britain and France turned away some refugees from Spain’s civil war, Mexico let 25,000 in. But by the 1970s the government, worried about unemployment, restricted entrance to “useful” migrants and made it a criminal offence both to enter and to stay in the country without authorisation. (In the United States, entering the country illegally is a crime but staying there is a civil offence.) In 2014, with encouragement and cash from the United States, Mexico stepped up its efforts to catch migrants headed north. Mexico deports children of migrants born in the country, in violation of its own laws, says Salva Lacruz of the Fray Matías de Córdova human-rights centre in Tapachula.

Under pressure from activists and from migrants themselves, Mexican attitudes are softening. The attorney-general’s office has established a unit to investigate crimes against migrants. The country’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has promised to promote refugees’ integration into society and to increase the staff of COMAR, the commission that is responsible for the welfare of asylum-seekers and rules on their applications. Entering and staying in the country without papers stopped being a crime in 2008. The success rate for asylum claims rose from 40% in 2014 to 63% last year.

Even with these improvements, the government pays too little heed to migrants’ rights, says Mr Lacruz. He says it should start by complying with its own laws, including the one allowing children born in the country to stay.

Mr Trump’s harder border, and the flow of refugees across Mexico’s southern one, will force the government to pay more attention to Central America. During Barack Obama’s presidency, the United States increased its spending on projects in the region that aim to reduce violence and improve job prospects, especially for young men. As Mr Trump turns his back on the United States’ southern neighbours, Mexico may become more active. Central America should be Mexico’s “top foreign-policy concern”, says Mr Mohar. That is unlikely to happen: the United States is plainly more important. But as rafts continue to cross the Suchiate river, the northern triangle and its woes will move up the diplomats’ agenda.

fonte: The Economist