Here’s How the UN is Responding to the Migrant Caravan in Central America

A group of mostly Honduran migrants have been displaced from their homes through a combination of violence, extreme drought and economic hardship. They are now making their way north, hoping to reach the United States. The group numbers more than 7,000 and has caught attention of politicians in the United States who are seeking to portray this group as a threat to the United States.

Meanwhile, agencies of the United Nations, including the UN Refugee Agency, are mounting a response.  The agency announced earlier this week that 45 staff from the UN high commission on Refugees are in, or en route to Chiapas State in Mexico.

Working in support of the Mexican authorities, our teams are providing staffing and technical help to ensure timely registration of asylum seekers, setting up identification and referral mechanisms for those with specific vulnerabilities and needs, and increasing assistance and shelter capacity.

Of concern to UNHCR at present is the developing humanitarian situation and the known kidnapping and security risks in areas the caravan may venture into. Stabilizing the situation has become urgent. It is essential that there are proper reception and other conditions for those seeking asylum as well as for others on the move.

This is very typical work for the United Nations. When there are sudden and large movements of migrants across a border, including many who could probably legally be considered refugees, the UN Refugee Agency mobilizes a response. This is always done in cooperation with the country to which the refugees and migrants are fleeing. In this case, UN Refugee Agency staff are helping Mexican authorities provide basic shelter and humanitarian assistance.

Crucially, they are also informing migrants of their rights to asylum under international law and assisting Mexican authorities with migrants who opt to claim asylum in Mexico. It is unclear how many of these migrants are making asylum claims in Mexico,  but the intention of the UN Refugee Agency’s actions are to aid these migrants before they reach the US border. This apparently includes beginning the process of asylum. Now, with the help of the UN Refugee Agency, many of these migrants may opt to claim asylum in Mexico rather than continue the trip north to the United States.

Meanwhile, other UN agencies, like UN Migration are increasing their capacity in Mexico.  For his part, Antonio Guterres issued a statement calling for both the humane treatment of migrants and the respect for international borders.

Whether or not these migrants opt to make asylum claims in Mexico, it is important to keep in mind that migrants who show up at the US border have the right — under American law — to claim asylum and have those claims vetted by proper authorities.