A better life? Hopes and challenges of Mexican migration


MEXICO CITY (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Aurelian crossed treacherous seas and jungles for a better life – but the social cost proved high. No family, no friends, not even a bed or a day off for this Cameroonian refugee.

And it is a relative success.

“My goal was to bring my family here, but… I couldn’t raise enough money,” Aurélien, who did not use his real name, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation after being told the news. mexican house.

“Living without them is like being in hell.”

As the number of refugees has doubled in the past decade, the United Nations is fighting to help migrants like Aurélien earn a living while facing the challenges of settling into a new life away from home.

The 38-year-old, who moved to Mexico City in 2017, earned $300 a month working in construction. When he realized it would never cover the cost of bringing his family over, he changed tack.

Last month, Aurélien joined the more than 4,000 refugees and asylum seekers transferred this year by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, to northern Mexico, where salaries are higher.

“(Now) my dream is a life in Monterrey with my children,” he said, referring to the northern manufacturing city of 4 million that is now his home.

The UNHCR programme, launched in 2016, aims to ease one of the most enduring conundrums of Mexico’s refugee crisis: while most asylum seekers arrive in the rural south of the country, the greatest economic opportunities are in the industrial north.

These are the kinds of challenges that will occupy the first Global Refugee Forum, a two-day United Nations conference to be held in Geneva next month.

The forum will explore how to help host countries cope with, as well as settle, refugees, whose numbers have risen to more than 25 million over the past decade.


Mexico is a good example.

Once a transit country to the United States, violence in Latin America and an increasingly strict US immigration policy have also made Mexico a destination for refugees.

According to the Mexican refugee agency, COMAR, the number of asylum seekers has already doubled this year since 2018.

Of these, two-thirds have sought asylum in the southern border state of Chiapas, where some 75% of the population lives in poverty, according to the government. In the northern state of Nuevo Leon, where Aurelian is currently located, the figure is just 14.5%.

“There are regions of the country that have all the capabilities not only to accommodate incoming migrants, but to receive them without any problem,” said COMAR’s general coordinator, Andres Alfonso Ramirez Silva.

“(But) the front door… is the poorest state.”

A strong manufacturing sector saw Nuevo Leon’s economy grow 2.3% in the second quarter, while Chiapas is in recession.

“There are a lot of economic opportunities (in Nuevo Leon),” said Gabriela Zamora, a lawyer at Casa Monarca, an NGO in Monterrey that works with UNHCR to resettle refugees.

“The manufacturing industry, the construction industry, these are the industries that have the most growth and these are the types of jobs that refugees are looking for.”


According to the UNHCR, if all asylum seekers in Mexico entered the formal labor market, it could generate some $6 million in additional economic output in six months.

Tax revenue could then support the country’s flooded refugee agency, said Florian Hopfner, who works for the UN refugee agency in Mexico.

“Indirectly, the refugee protection system in Mexico would be self-financing,” Hopfner said.

Hector Garcia runs a family lumber business called Triplay Azteca and said he had recently tried to hire refugees.

“We had difficulty finding workers. People were coming and going,” he said. “So we had the idea…why didn’t we hire foreigners, especially Central Americans?”

A practical solution to his problem, and the pastor felt it was the right thing to do.

“It’s my moral responsibility, not just as a human being, but as a citizen, and in my case as a Christian,” he said.

So Asylum Access, an advocacy group, put Garcia in touch with two Honduran asylum seekers.

After a day of work, neither of the two men returned.

“It was a little disappointing,” Garcia conceded.

Asylum Access said the journey was too long for Hondurans, a typical hurdle given the city’s sprawl and limited transportation.

It takes Cameroonian refugee Aurélien two hours to reach the slaughterhouse where he works; he often does not return home until after midnight.

“It’s really difficult,” he said. “But I have no choice.”

He is more relaxed in Monterrey than in the suffocating chaos of Mexico City, where his life, he says, seemed to stagnate. Salaries are also better – he now earns around $500 a month.

But life is still a struggle. Aurélien works seven days a week and lives in a bare apartment on the outskirts of town with only a stove and fridge as furniture.

As for bringing his family?

“Hope is gone,” he said. “I’m waiting for a real miracle from God.”

Reporting by Oscar Lopez; edited by Lyndsay Griffiths and Chris Michaud. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate


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