The United Nations refugee agency says it has helped more than 10,000 refugees, most from Central America, restart their lives in safer, more economically viable communities in Mexico.
More than 70 percent of all asylum claims in Mexico are made in the south of the country, where job opportunities and services are limited. Consequently, the U.N. refugee agency started an integration program in 2016 to relocate refugees into communities with better prospects.
UNHCR spokesman Babar Balloch said the program has relocated 10,000 refugees to one of eight cities in central and northern Mexico.
"There, the labor and housing markets, as well as the education and health systems, have the capacity to integrate refugees, as a result of demographic transition and economic growth," he said. "UNHCR supports program participants with temporary housing, cultural orientation, vocational training, school enrollment and job placement."
Balloch said the refugees can apply for naturalization in Mexico after two years of permanent residence.
A recent review shows 92 percent of the relocated refugees were formally employed, compared with only 10 percent in the south. And, Balloch said, incomes on average were 60 percent higher than in the south.
Local communities also benefit from the increased tax revenues and social security contributions, he said. The program has been a game changer for asylum-seekers, the majority of whom are fleeing parts of Central America in search of protection and a better life, Balloch added.
"The causes are well known — violence, insecurity … economic hardships, as well as the compounding effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, recurrent natural disasters and climate change. In total, up to a million people in Central America have been forcibly displaced," he said.
The UNHCR is increasing its target for the refugee integration program in Mexico. It seeks to relocate 20,000 people every year from southern parts of the country.