Nearly two years after US President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, Mexico is seeing a small but unusual spike in Afghan migrants seeking asylum or crossing the country.
In January 2023, nearly 13,000 people applied for asylum in Mexico. Among them were 430 Afghans — the 7th highest nationality and the only nationality from outside the Western Hemisphere to rank in Mexico’s top 10, according to COMAR, the country’s refugee relief agency.
The head of COMAR, Andrés Ramírez, believes many Afghans are heading for the southern US border.
“The Afghans are the kind of people who actually want to go to the US, that’s what we read, because you know the culture is so different from the Mexican culture,” Ramírez told CNN over the phone.
The Mexican asylum authority is not the only agency noticing that more Afghans are moving north.
Enrique Lucero, the chief of migrant services for the northern Mexican city of Tijuana, on the Mexico-US border, says he began to see an increase in the number of Afghans in his city last April.
“They are trying to cross over to the United States [seek] asylum,” he said.
U.S. data from the period identified by Lucero shows an increase in the number of Afghans crossing the U.S. southern border and being processed by immigration officials. According to US federal court documents, 410 Afghan adults were processed in January 2023 — an increase of more than 1,200 percent compared to May 2022, when US immigration authorities encountered just 31 Afghans.
Medical NGO Doctors Without Borders told CNN it has also seen an increase in the number of Afghans asking for help at its Mexico City site in recent months, according to Angel Resendiz, the group’s mobile health operations manager.
In January this year, 119 Afghans received general health information in Mexico City from Doctors Without Borders — nearly equal to the total number of Afghans served by the organization in all of 2022, when they saw 144 Afghan patients, Resendiz said.
The group provides a wide range of informational and mental health services, including information on shelters, human rights and social services.
“When these populations are forced to flee their home countries, it means that they are exposed to vulnerable situations during their travels. And the longer the journey, the more vulnerable the situations they are likely to face,” Resendiz said.
Given the relative rarity of Afghan migrants in Mexico, there is often a language barrier to services designed to assist migrants.
While most Afghans speak Pashto and Dari, Resendiz says his team speaks only English, French, Portuguese, Creole and Spanish, and online translation services are not ideal for health-related services or medical diagnoses.
Tens of thousands of Afghans were evacuated to the US when the Taliban returned to power in 2021. The group’s takeover preceded a deepening humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, exacerbating the problems that had long plagued the country and creating difficult conditions for those left behind.
Following the takeover, the US and its allies froze about $7 billion of the country’s foreign reserves and cut off international financing, crippling an economy heavily dependent on foreign aid.
Already scant humanitarian aid declined further in December when the Taliban announced a ban on female NGO workers, prompting several major foreign aid agencies to suspend operations in the country.
A ban on women in Afghan universities has also sparked recent protests in the country.