Challenges in Implementing Measures to Adequately Protect Migrants in Emergencies in Mexico

  Date: Thursday, June 1, 2017
By Jessica López Mejía, Migration Policy Unit of the Ministry of Interior of Mexico

In 2014 Mexico established its first public policy on migration, in which civil society actors, academics, governmental authorities and the migrants themselves played a key role in identifying the needs to be addressed and the rights to be upheld under the new policy. The new policy acknowledged the complexity of the migration phenomenon in the country and led to the development of the Special Programme on Migration 2014–2018 (Programa Especial de Migración, or PEM), under which the principles enshrined in the Migration Law (2011) for the protection and integration of internal and international migrants are to be implemented. However, three years after its publication, the implementation of this vision on migration has yet to overcome the obstacle of limited institutional capacities at the local level.

In order to address some of these issues, the Government has begun establishing collaboration channels with other actors, which have been valuable in identifying the main lines of action and in linking up with local stakeholders and representatives from communities where migrants reside or are in transit. In this spirit, the cooperation with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), for the implementation of the Reducing the Vulnerability of Migrants in Emergencies project, was established.

The first outcome of this collaboration was an assessment of the specific conditions of migrants’ vulnerability and exposure to social and natural hazards in Mexico (both migrants in transit through, and residing in the country). This work has facilitated the convergence of the Government’s approaches to migration (which recognize migrants’ welfare as the focus of public action from the perspective of equality and non-discrimination) and to risk management (the framework under which national and local authorities operate to protect the population against disasters caused by natural hazards).

Significant efforts have gone into establishing a picture of those migrants with irregular status transiting through the region, including timing and patterns of their movements, and their socioeconomic profiles. However, these efforts have not been complemented by an understanding of the potential hazards in the main areas of transit and destination, nor by an assessment of the risks migrants face and neither of the institutional capacity of local authorities to assist them in case of need. As a consequence, support networks of non-governmental actors have not been fully integrated in risk reduction and management mechanisms.

In 2016, the IOM-led project brought together national and local authorities, as well as representatives from civil society and academia, in four cities in Mexico to broadly discuss how to incorporate migrants into prevention and preparedness programmes. These meetings highlighted the need to: (a) establish permanent channels of communication among risk management actors and the authorities responsible for protecting migrants; and (b) allocate more financial and human resources to support civil society-managed shelters that temporarily receive the populations in transit and that do not have sufficient capacity to respond to crisis situations in a comprehensive, effective manner.

The meetings offered a snapshot of migration policies implementation: although all response actors provide emergency assistance without discrimination, as explicitly established by PEM, the principles of protection and integration have yet to translate into comprehensive measures adapted to the specific needs of both the migrant population and their host communities. Despite these remaining challenges, the idea that the Government of Mexico has the responsibility to protect internal and international migrants on its territory drives the design and implementation of actions at the national and local level and both the Migration Law and PEM reflect the principles outlined in the Guidelines to Protect Migrants in Countries Experiencing Conflict or Natural Disaster.

In this context, the training activities rolled out as part of the “Reducing the Vulnerability of Migrants in Emergencies” project corresponded well with Mexico’s overall coordination efforts to meet the challenges associated with the regional and international migration situation. Personnel from the National Center for Prevention of Disasters (CENAPRED) and Grupos Beta (National Migration Institute), along with representatives from local governments and civil society organizations, participated in a series of workshops entitled “Including Migrants in Disaster Prevention, Preparedness and Response” in Tapachula, Tijuana and Mexico City. The involvement of different stakeholders contributed to an improved understanding of the roles and responsibilities of local actors, and in particular allowed for closer coordination between Grupos Beta and the Mexican National Civil Protection System, and between the Mexican authorities and the consular corps of the migrants’ countries of origin.

These training and coordination activities have facilitated the development of a more comprehensive assistance network; for instance, Grupos Beta now participate fully in discussions and decision-making on civil protection so that migrants can be more effectively accounted for in prevention, preparedness and response planning at the local level. Likewise, Grupos Beta personnel now work to share information with civil society shelters so that migrants can access first-hand information on risks and emergencies and be better aware of their rights.

The next step is to effectively integrate migrants into contingency plans and post-disaster recovery efforts, as well as to empower them in the exercise of their social rights. This requires efforts at the local level in order to establish administrative mechanisms that can achieve the objectives of the relevant norms and frameworks – namely, eliminating discrimination linked to migrants’ status and characteristics in the provision of basic services, adapting the way institutions work in order to include migrants as people entitled to social benefits, and, above all, institutionalizing isolated good practices (for instance, on issues such as effective and inclusive communication that considers the specificities of people with disabilities or those not proficient in Spanish).

The design and streamline of national and local indicators on the inclusiveness of protection systems is key to supporting the process. It is also necessary to implement a long-term, sustainable strategy for the exchange of good practices between federal and local authorities.

The establishment of this institutional framework to adequately protect migrants and to allow them to exercise their rights must be informed by a comprehensive, multi-hazard perspective, which takes into consideration everyday crises due, for instance, to the limited opportunities to access shelter or basic public services in certain areas. These crises erode the cohesion of communities and may result in episodes of social violence, discrimination and xenophobia.

For Mexico it is now time to build on the lessons learned and move towards a more comprehensive migration management and the creation of spaces for the participation of migrant communities in policymaking. This will help generate public policies that improve the response of the whole society to emergencies and reestablish trust between public authorities and social actors. 

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Jessica López Mejía is the Policy Director for Protection and Integration of Migrants at the Migration Policy Unit of the Ministry of Interior of Mexico