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U.N. Refugee Agency Sends Dozens Of Staff To Address Migrant Caravan Needs In Mexico


There are still thousands of Central American migrants making their way north as part of a caravan. They're still far from the U.S. border, a thousand miles or so. In response, the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has sent dozens of staff to southern Mexico to help with asylum applications. I reached UNHCR communications officer Maria Rubi there. She told me, about 1,700 people in the caravan have already applied for asylum in Mexico.

MARIA RUBI: We're assisting the Mexican government in processing these applications. We're also providing legal advice, counseling to people that are in the caravan. It's very important to specify that we are facing a mixed flow, a mixed flow of persons that is comprised both of people who are migrating in order to find a better life and people that are running away from conflict and persecution in their countries of origin.

CORNISH: So you're saying that there is a mix of both economic migrants and people who are seeking asylum because they fear persecution in their home countries or fear violence. Do you have people in the caravan who are making it clear to you that they wish to go to the United States?

RUBI: No, not really. The comments we receive from them is that they are seeking for a better life in their path, not necessary in the U.S. but within Mexico.

CORNISH: There has been a lot of concern in the U.S. about the numbers of people who might be trying to apply to asylum in the U.S. Has UNHCR received any pressure from the Trump administration to process people there?

RUBI: No, not at all. Not at all. I think it's very important to be very clear. We have, actually, three offices in southern Mexico - one in Tapachula, another one in Tenosique, another in Acayucan. So that you can have an idea of what we are facing currently - is that in 2016, the Mexican government received almost 6,000 applications for asylum. This year, without taking into consideration the caravan, this extraordinary event, we are thinking that we will receive, by the end of September, 23,000 applications.

CORNISH: UNHCR has identified kidnapping and other security risks. Is that something you're talking about that's a risk within the caravan or from outside of it?

RUBI: I think outside the caravan. We have not identified, per se, these dangers along the path that the caravan is taking right now. What we are advising people is to be careful, to always be part of a group that they don't look alone. They might face criminal group along the path, and they can be either extorted or recruited, so to speak.

CORNISH: As we mentioned, we're catching you as you're traveling along this group. Was there any person or family that stood out to you, them or their story?

RUBI: I mean, the caravan is comprised by a lot of families who have very young children. A vast majority of them are only 5 years old and are people that really - when they decided to leave their country, it's because they don't have anything else. The security threats by the criminal groups is so high that they preferred to leave everything behind in order to survive.

CORNISH: Maria Rubi is a communications officer with the U.N. Refugee Agency.

Thank you for speaking with us.

RUBI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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