UN agencies have begun preparing individuals and families at the Matamoros informal camp, near the United States-Mexico border, for entry into the US, following the termination of a policy that forced asylum seekers to wait for immigration hearings in Mexico.
According to the agencies involved, an initial group could be allowed to enter the US this week, pending approval by authorities there.
.@OIM_Mexico, @AcnurMexico and @UNICEFMexico today are preparing the first groups of asylum-seekers in Matamoros to cross the US border, marking the end of a policy that forced people to wait for their immigration hearings in Mexico: https://t.co/Qqxnjcx6Ge pic.twitter.com/habBd80sQV— IOM - UN Migration (@UNmigration) February 24, 2021
In a joint news release, the UN agencies said that the US and Mexican governments prioritized the Matamoros camp due to the difficult humanitarian conditions there.
Other individuals with active MPP cases living outside the Matamoros camp will also be processed, they added.
An estimated 25,000 applicants being processed in the US, were returned to Mexico under the policy known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). After the policy was terminated, a first group with active MPP cases entered the US on 19 February at the San Ysidro port of entry between Tijuana (Mexico) and San Diego (US).
The UN agencies involved in the exercise – the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) – are conducting in-person registrations, ensuring humane treatment of children and their families, and carrying out COVID-19 tests.
So far, no cases of COVID-19 have been detected.
In coordination with US authorities, UNHCR launched a website on 19 February for people with active MPP cases to pre-register. About 12,000 people signed up in the first three days of operation. The website is supplemented by alternative registration channels including email, social media, and telephone.
Similarly, in addition to conducting COVID-19 testing, IOM is coordinating transportation to the designated ports of entry. UNICEF is offering support for the most vulnerable child protection cases, and providing information to families and children.
Similarly, partner organizations the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Mexican Red Cross are offering free telephone calls to allow asylum-seekers to maintain contact with their families before crossing into the US.
Order determined by US authorities
The UN agencies also noted that according to the new US policy, all persons with active cases under the MPP programme will be able to enter the country to continue their immigration proceedings and lodge asylum claims.
They clarified that the dates and points of entry to the United States for persons who have already completed registration are determined by the US government.
“All individuals who qualify will be processed based upon the order determined by the US and not based on the date when they pre-register with UNHCR using the website or the hotline”, they added.