Mixed Migration in the Americas

It is estimated that half a million undocumented migrants cross Mexico's southern border every year, most of them Central Americans trying to reach the United States or Canada.

The vast majority of these people are moving for economic reasons, but some refugees and asylum seekers, fleeing conflict or persecution, are often mixed in amongst them. And, when the percentage is small, they are less easy to identify.

Many of those who attempt to cross the border die or end up in the hands of criminal gangs or individuals, with women particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse or being forced into prostitution.

In an effort to monitor the border and identify asylum seekers and refugees, UNHCR established an office in Tapachula in Mexico in 2003, close to the border with Guatemala. Since then, hundreds of people have filed asylum applications in the city, mostly from Central America but also including significant numbers of Colombians, Bangladeshis, Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalis. About 40 per cent of the asylum applications submitted in Mexico are lodged with the office in Tapachula.

Providing effective protection to refugees caught up in mixed migratory flows in the Caribbean Sea is also quite a challenge. In terms of numbers, Dominicans, Cubans and Haitians consistently dominate the mixed flows of migrants and refugees heading north.