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MPP Has Created A Refugee Camp in Mexico—Why Aren’t We Treating It Like One?
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Emily Van Fossen
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Unofficial refugee camps in Mexico’s northern border towns have become
commonplace in the last year as the U.S. requires asylum seekers to wait in
Mexico as a result of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). Antithetical
to the name, MPP forces asylum seekers to live in crowded shelters, tents,
and on the streets without oversight, provisions, or protections normally
offered to people living in refugee camps supported by the United Nations
refugee agency—UNHCR. For now, the limited services available to asylum
seekers are provided by NGOs and faith based organizations.
Both the U.S. and Mexico continue to refuse to declare an official
emergency, thereby allowing UNHCR to provide oversight at these camps,
which has forced people to live for months in unsanitary, unsafe
conditions. As MPP continues operation into its second year, it’s time to
call the crowded MPP regions what they are—refugee camps—and allow UNHCR to
provide basic needs to these asylum seekers.
Beginning in 2016, the U.S. implemented a policy known as “metering,” which
allows a certain number of asylum seekers into the U.S. each day dependent
upon “capacity,” setting the stage for the foundation of camps and people
waited to make a lawful asylum claim.
At the beginning of 2019, the administration implemented the MPP, which
forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for the duration of their
immigration case, thereby multiplying the number and length of time people
began waiting on the southwester border.
In the first year since its implementation, over 60,000 men, women, and
children have been kept waiting in unofficial camps in Mexico’s northern
border towns. According to a
by Human Rights First, there have been over 600 reports of violent crime on
asylum seekers in MPP in the last year.
In June 2019, the United States and the Government of Mexico signed a
to address the shared challenges of migration. The declaration required
increased enforcement by Mexico, an expansion of MPP, and promotion of
economic growth in the Southern Mexico and Central American region. While
the declaration aims to reduce migration, very few protections are actually
afforded to the 60,000+ people currently languishing in Mexico.
In their <a href=”https://www.unhcr.org/5da049c97.pdf”>October 2019 update</a>
referencing MPP, UNHCR stated they, “stand ready to provide advice and
support to ensure that all governments concerned adhere to their protection
obligations set forth in the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and
its 1967 protocol. UNHCR also reiterates the importance of
protection-sensitive regional approach to this displacement situation.”
There are three major benefits to formalizing the MPP camps.
First and foremost, it would help meet the basic needs of asylum seekers
with shelter and security.
While in Mexico,
often must stay in shelters set up by overextended nonprofit organizations.
These shelters have been unable to keep up with the demand of housing
individuals long-term. When space is full at the shelters, asylum seekers
are forced to find alternative housing, and may end up sleeping on the
streets, meaning they unlikely have regular access to food or clean water
and are often exposed to violence.
For example, UNHCR can establish camp boundaries that would hinder the
ability of gangs to harass asylum seekers. There have been multiple
of asylum seekers being too afraid of local gangs to venture outside of
shelters even in broad daylight. There has been increased tensions between
the newly created Mexican National Guard and shelters that house asylum
seekers in border towns and
of National Guard members harassing migrant shelters for information have
been reported in multiple cities.
Refugee aid agencies are increasingly calling for alternatives to refugee
camps that allow refugees to integrate into local populations. However,
Mexico’s northern border cities are not suited to hosting vulnerable
populations of women, unaccompanied minors, and LGBTQ individuals who are
often met with the same levels of violence and extortion they are fleeing
in their home country.
Second, it would prevent the spread of disease.
In <a href=”https://www.unhcr.org/rw/meeting-refugees-basic-needs”>Rwanda</a>,
during the sudden mass influx of Burundian refugees in April 2015, they
established emergency health posts to identify and prevent potential
outbreaks of disease, check for malnutrition, and provide health care
services. A similar effort to be used to control and prevent the outbreak
of chickenpox, scabies, respiratory infections, skin rashes, and
gastrointestinal issues that have been
in the camps.
American doctors and nurses volunteering in MPP camps continue to offer to
provide flu shots, but faced challenges around organizing with the Mexican
government. Mexico requires a licensed physician to supervise
and signed consent for each patient. UNHCR is better equipped to negotiate
and handle large scale health initiatives.
Third, it would increase access to counsel.
According to <a href=”https://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/568/”>TRAC</a>, by the
end of June 2019 a total of 1,155 MPP cases had been decided. Yet, only
1.2% —14 individuals—were represented by legal counsel. Having access to an
attorney gives asylum seekers the opportunity to learn their options and
successfully argue their claims.
There are limited numbers of U.S.-licensed attorneys living in Mexico or
who are able to travel to Mexico frequently to meet with their clients due
to time and cost. Additionally, in a
from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), they cite
concerns over safety including attorneys in Mexico being subjected to
interrogations, arrests and travel restrictions.
Additionally, the United States
to the Government of Mexico that it would minimize the time that migrants
wait in Mexico for their immigration proceedings. Specifically, the
Department of Justice agreed to treat MPP cases such as detained cases such
that they are prioritized according to longstanding guidance for such
If the U.S. is going to continue to close the door to people fleeing
violence and persecution, there needs to be an alternative that is able to
provide safety and resources. Aid agencies need a way to provide security,
shelter, medical attention, water, and food to asylum seekers.
A formal camp structure would provide oversight to the U.S. and Mexico’s
treatment of asylum seekers; offer protections to individuals trapped in
Mexico; and provide the opportunity for them to be resettled in other
<p>This post originally appeared on <a href=”https://www.niskanencenter.org/mpp-has-created-a-refugee-camp-in-mexico-why-arent-we-treating-it-like-one/” target=”_blank”>Niskanen Center</a>. Reprinted with permission.</p>
About The Author<br/>
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<b>Emily Van Fossen</b> is the Legal Research Associate at the Niskanen Center where she focuses on immigration policy and climate litigation. Prior to joining Niskanen Center, she worked at the Pro Bono Institute where she provided support to corporations founding and growing their legal pro bono programs. She received her B.A. in Pre-Law, Politics and Government, and Psychology from Ohio Wesleyan University.
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