Refugee Inflows Inside Mexico


Photo source: The Guardian

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

An estimated two hundred twenty-five thousand migrants are presently stranded in Mexico, including people from Central America, the Caribbean, South America, Eastern Europe, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, most waiting for an opportunity to cross into the United States. In 2023, Mexico received a record number of requests for refuge, a thirty-one per cent increase over 2022. Although only a small share of migrants formally request refuge, allowing them to transit through the country without being detained by immigration authorities, it’s one of the few official statistics that characterise the magnitude of people on the move.

Asylum seekers facing backlogs from overwhelmed immigration authorities have grown desperate: In September 2023, dozens of migrants tried to force their way into a government facility, resulting in injuries. Migrants, who for many years have crossed the country by hitching journeys on freight trains, have been involved in so many accidents that the main railroad company temporarily suspended operations on sixty trains. In the capital and the main border towns in the south and north of the country, shelters are full, forcing many people to sleep on the streets in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Mexico’s health institutions have proven incapable of satisfying the health needs of this torrent of people.

Alarmed by the growing number of migrants sleeping on the streets of the main cities of Chiapas, the Mexican state through which migrants enter from Guatemala, investigative journalists 
Zeus Aranda and Hellen Mata conducted a rapid assessment of the health needs of this population through interviews.

Getting from South America to Mexico involves crossing the Darien Gap, a sixty-mile route through dense rainforest that is full of perils. Migrants must cross uneven terrain and traverse dangerous rivers, where drinking water and food are scarce and often unsanitary, prey to mosquitoes that transmit malaria and dengue fever, and to criminal groups. Those with health conditions do not receive adequate care. Migrants are also exploited by criminal gangs, who may demand exorbitant sums for assistance crossing into the United States, or outright rob, extort, or kidnap them.

Travelers are exposed to one another’s tragedies, too, which can seriously affect their mental health. Edwin, a thirty-three-year-old Venezuelan who was interviewed by Zeus Aranda and Hellen Mata in Think Global Health in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas, crossed the Darien in September 2023 with his wife and two children, ages eight and eleven, and said the children were traumatised by the sight of dead bodies. ‘They must pass by a little side and turn their faces away. It's horrible.’

Despite the harshness of the Darien Gap, several people said the violence and corruption of Mexican immigration authorities was worse. Maria Eugenia, a forty-seven-year-old Venezuelan woman, said the police and other authorities stole from migrants and ‘continually put obstacles in our way.’ In the poor living conditions that await them, be it overcrowded shelters or the streets, migrants are at risk of contracting respiratory, gastrointestinal, and skin infections and are exposed to further violence.

Although health organisations support migrants during their journey through Central America, several said that none had offered support or guidance on how to access health services since their arrival in Mexico. While crossing through Honduras, an eleven-year-old boy from Venezuela had been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and hospitalised for eight days, allowing him to recover sufficiently to reach Mexico. His parents, though, were worried about continuing his treatment, as per inputs by the reporting journalists Zeus Aranda and Hellen Mata. It is because they did not know where to seek care without the risk of being reported to immigration authorities.

Zeus Aranda and Hellen Mata wrote in Think Global Health: ‘Migrants in Mexico are entitled to health care, but many aren’t receiving it. The country’s Comprehensive Health Care Plan for the Migrant Population guarantees health care for the migrant population but has not been fully funded or implemented. Whether out of ignorance or discrimination, some public health personnel ask migrant patients for personal identification as a requirement to receive care, even though doing so is unconstitutional. It deters some migrants from seeking care entirely because they fear personnel will report them to immigration authorities or because they are unaware of their legal rights. Others receive health services but are treated disrespectfully or charged fees for services and medicines that ought to be free.’

Many migrants end up paying high prices for consultations and medicines in the private sector or fail to receive care at all. Mexico’s migration crisis demands an urgent change of course by immigration authorities, the Ministry of Health, and nongovernmental organisations.

Migratory flows are not going away. Because Mexico’s geographic location makes it, for many people, the gateway to the Global North, the country will continue to be an important crossing point for migrant populations. Therefore, structural reforms need to be in place, where the United States can also play a pivotal role.


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