Mexico Must Extend Cartagena’s Protection Principles to Haitian Asylum Seekers

Intersecting crises in Haiti have left tens of thousands of Haitians no choice but to flee their country, and Haitians who fled in prior years are unable to return home. A report by Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Matías de Córdova A.C. and the Global Justice Clinic shows why Mexico–and, by extension, all countries that have signed the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees–must grant Haitians refugee status. 

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The report comes at a critical moment. Haiti currently faces extraordinary violence and a near-complete collapse of state institutions. Armed groups killed more than 1,500 people in the first three months of 2024, displaced more than 360,000 people within Haiti’s borders, and seized control of the capital, ports, and hospitals. Sexual violence is endemic. Escalated violence and targeted attacks on government infrastructure in March 2024 plunged Haiti into a two-months long state of emergency. 

Mexico is one of the many countries that Haitian people have migrated to in the past decade. Tens of thousands of Haitians enter Mexico every year. Mexico has incorporated the Cartagena Declaration–which provides a broader definition of “refugee” than the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1966 Protocol–into its domestic law, legally binding it to grant refugee status to people who, based on an objective analysis of the circumstances in their country of origin, meet the elements of the declaration. This report establishes how three of the Declaration’s elements–generalized violence, massive violations of human rights, and other circumstances that seriously disturb public order–are pervasive in Haiti.

Between 2021 and 2023, Mexico approved approximately 5,200 out of more than 110,000 Haitians’ refugee applications — representing a 4.6% approval rate. In those years Haitians were also the nationality that filed the most refugee applications in Mexico.

This disproportionately low approval rate of Haitian applicants, who by any measure face persecution and extremely challenging conditions at home, flies in the face of Mexico’s legal obligations to establish nondiscriminatory migratory procedures.

Enrique Vidal, Interim Director of CDH Fray Matías.

Haitians living outside of Haiti often lack access to basic human rights, face anti-Black discrimination, and in many countries, live under the threat of being sent back to Haiti. Pathways to legal status in other countries are essential for Haitians seeking safety, but governments rarely grant legal status to Haitians and, when they do, protections are often temporary.

Recognizing Haitian nationals as refugees under the Cartagena Declaration is one necessary step to correct the systemic denial of Haitians’ rights. In doing so, Mexico could pave the way for greater protection of human rights in the hemisphere. 

Mexico has the opportunity to be a leader in protecting the rights of Haitian people in the region. Governments throughout the region must assess country conditions objectively, and cease to discriminate against the Haitian people

Gabrielle Apollon, Director of the Haitian Immigrant Rights Project at the Global Justice Clinic, in light of the upcoming 40th anniversary of the signing of the Cartagena Declaration. 

GJC and CDH Fray Matías launched the report, in Spanish, in Mexico City in late April 2024. They met with representatives of Mexican government agencies, including the Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a Refugiados (Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance) and the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Secretariat of Foreign Affairs) to urge them to apply the Cartagena Declaration to Haitian nationals. GJC and Fray Matías staff also observed firsthand the inhumane living conditions that many Haitian migrants and asylum-seekers endure in migrant encampments in Mexico. These conditions underscore the urgency of providing greater refugee protections for Haitians.

Today, GJC and CDH Fray Matías make this report available in English. Although the Mexican government remains the primary advocacy target, this report presents the case for all signatories to the Cartagena Declaration to extend refugee protection to Haitian nationals, and for countries throughout the Hemisphere to provide maximum protections to Haitian migrants and asylum-seekers.

May 24, 2024. For more information, please contact Gabrielle Apollon (English and Kreyòl) or Ellie Happel (English, Kreyòl, Spanish).