Who are involved:
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) & Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) of Canada | Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a Refugiados (COMAR) or the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance & Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores or the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Canada's GRF Asylum Offer:
Asylum capacity-building: Since 2015, Canada has participated in asylum capacity building activities in the Americas, focusing on Mexico. Canada is continuing asylum capacity building projects in Mexico and will explore expanding this work to other countries identified by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Specifically, Canada has worked with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and the UNHCR to support the Government of Mexico in processing a growing number of asylum claims. This work includes training, sharing of best practices, fact-finding missions to third countries to support Country of Origin Information (COI) research as well as project funding to, for example, create a web-based translation and interpretation service to support refugee adjudication. Canada has also provided project funding to support asylum systems in Panama and Belize through the development of COI materials and targeted training. Since 2017, Canada has provided assistance to refugee judges in the Administrative Migration Tribunal (TAM) in Costa Rica. For example, in the summer of 2018, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the TAM and the IRB establishing a protocol for the exchange of information and best practices related to the refugee appeal process as well as an exchange program that aims to strengthen refugee status determination.
Mexico's GRF Asylum Commitment:
(1) Efficiency in registration workflows and database systems, and inter-agency coordination to issue documentation that ensures access to rights. This component has three main approaches:
– Ensuring capacity, efficiency, and digitization of registration and case management processes.
– Allowing the outline of interoperability between COMAR and the National Population Registry (RENAPO) to ensure unique identity documentation for asylum seekers, which would ensure access to rights and services; and gradually join the project between RENAPO and the World Bank on functional identity.
– Turning the COMAR registration and case management systems into a robust and comprehensive operating system to simplify administrative processes and increase inter-agency coordination, while minimizing and merging requirements for the issuance of official documents.
The goal is to make the asylum process more efficient, to optimize the processing of files and facilitate individual case monitoring, to strengthen the management of identity in the registration system, to improve the management and allocation of human and financial resources and to strengthen institutions.
(2) Implementation of simplified and merged procedures within the refugee status determination process:
Mexico has experienced a substantial increase in asylum applications in recent years, reaching 70,302 new applications in 2019, compared to a total of 29,630 in 2018, 14,596 in 2017 and 8,788 in 2016. In 2020, despite pandemic restrictions, COMAR registered 41,303 new claims. This substantial increase represents strong pressure on the asylum system to ensure the efficiency and quality of the refugee recognition process. In addition to increasing staff capacity, with support from UNHCR, COMAR has increased its processing capacity by 48% from 2019 to 2020 in terms of substantial refugee status determination decisions.
Summary of Support
Canada and Mexico have agreed to implement activities developed under the Regional Asylum Capacity-building Initiative (RACBI) through the framework of the ACSG Mechanism to strengthen asylum capacity in Mexico on refugee issues.
The Government of Canada, through the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), and the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, is assisting the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance and the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs in strengthening their ability to produce country of origin information (COI) and registration capacity.
1) Country of Origin Information
The Canada/Mexico partnership supports the establishment of a COI Unit within COMAR’s office in Mexico City to improve the compilation and use of relevant and updated country of origin information in refugee status determinations. As of June 2020, the COI Unit within COMAR was formally established with one staff member. Moving forward, it will be crucial to strengthen this unit by offering guidance to define the scope of the unit’s activities, offering COI training and materials for COMAR officials, and sharing experiences/knowledge about technical options for creating an online COI database. IRCC has funded the translation of existing COI materials into Spanish for key source countries and the IRB has shared information about its COI unit, including structure and workflow, and provided training. IRCC funded the development of a COI Methodology Manual applied to the Mexican context, produced with the IRB’s technical support, to increase COMAR’s ability to collect and systematize COI more effectively.
The two countries are also working together on the reinforcement of COMAR’s asylum registration capacity and the streamlining of refugee status determination case processing modalities. IRCC and the IRB have shared tools such as interview and registration templates, and information packages about different intake and case triaging. In addition, IRCC provided funding to support the development of the registration module of COMAR’s case management database.
This activity is aimed at supporting COMAR to implement different case processing modalities, increase processing capacity and improve the quality of the entire process more effectively. The IRB has also provided information on the use of videoconferencing and remote hearings in the context of procedural adaptations due to COVID-19.
3) Case management
IRCC is funding the digitalization of case files at the Tapachula office, which sees the nation’s highest volume of claims, to allow for continuous and faster adjudication of files.
The activities implemented as part of the Canada/Mexico partnership are expected to be completed in 2022.
Summary of Achievements - Q1 2022
In 2021, IRCC provided additional funding to support COMAR’s digitization of case files at its office in Tapachula. As of September 2021, 80% of casefiles corresponding to the original scope at this office had been digitized through the project. Due to the exponential increase of the asylum applications in Mexico, the project´s scope did not reach total coverage of caseloads to digitize. In 2022, IRCC substantially increased the amount of funding available to support COMAR’s activities. In this sense, the two countries will continue working together to support COMAR in the digitization of asylum casefiles at its offices in Mexico City, Palenque, Tapachula and Tijuana. The digitalization project had a positive impact on RSD procedures, saving processing time and bringing more efficiency to the process.
Funding has also been provided for the purchase of scanners which are essential for COMAR’s digital transformation process and of mobile offices to be used initially in Chiapas. The last will keep supporting COMAR on its efforts to increase its decision capacity by having at least 30 additional interview rooms across the country, which can help the interview and resolution of at least 1,200 cases a month, the increase of differentiated RSD procedures and the availability of more confidential spaces for interviews and other procedures.
In 2021, COMAR has improved its decision capacity in 116% compared to 2020, deciding the case of 58,068 people. This is linked to streamlined registration procedures together with the implementation of several measures to process every case efficiently and the access to updated COI through COMAR’s COI Unit.
By supporting improvements in COMAR’s organizational structure, equipment, infrastructure, and continuous training, the collaboration between the IRCC and COMAR will result in major improvements to the registration process and resolution of refugee status determination procedures.
Summary of Achievements - Q2 2022
In the framework of RACBI, in April 2022, the IRB presented to COMAR on triage and analysis of asylum claims in the face of mixed migration movements to prevent and avoid backlog. The IRB and COMAR discussed how COMAR could optimize its triage process with lessons learned from the taskforce set up by the IRB to deal with less complex asylum claims.
Additionally, through funding provided by IRCC, four mobile office spaces were purchased for COMAR’s office in Tapachula, Chiapas. These mobile offices have provided COMAR with 16 extra interview rooms which have enabled it to conduct around 700 interviews per month. In 2022, COMAR has already increased its decision-making capacity by 22% compared to 2021.
COMAR also continues its digital transformation with support from IRCC; in July the second phase of the File verification and digitization project was launched in Mexico City to cover the remaining casefiles from 2021 and 2022 before it moves on to COMAR office in Tapachula, Palenque and Tijuana. In the meantime, UNHCR is providing capacity building and resources to COMAR to ensure the continuity of the digitization activities in COMAR, by COMAR.
Summary of Achievements - Q3 2022
In the framework of RACBI, in August 2022, Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) presented to COMAR on the Asylum and Refugee policies and protocols for reception and integration of unaccompanied minors in Canada, including healthcare services for asylum seekers and refugees.
The mobile offices donated by IRCC to COMAR, that allowed the existence of 16 extra interview rooms, are being fully used and allow the implementation of merged and accelerated RSD procedures in Tapachula, Chiapas. Decision capacity of COMAR is 21% higher if compared to 2021.
In line with the Digital Transformation in COMAR, thanks to IRCC funding, 9 scanning equipment were purchased and delivered to COMAR offices in Mexico City, Tapachula, Tenosique, Acayucan, Palenque and Tijuana. COMAR technical officers are installing the machines and training COMAR staff dedicated to digitizing case files in real time to ensure the sustainability of the digitization project and the access to files on the digital platform.
In November, through UNHCR’s support, COMAR will launch the use of the new version of their Case Management and Database System (SIRE) which will represent a turning point in the implementation of the Digital Transformation projects, mostly funded by Canada.
Summary of Achievements - Q4 2022
On 13 October 2022, within the RACBI framework, the IRB gave a training session entitled Use of a Designated Representative at the Refugee Protection Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. The IRB explained, among other things, who can be a designated representative, what their role is, and what procedure is involved. The IRB highlighted the importance of being flexible, creating a safe space, and being guided by the best interests of the child principle.
By the end of 2022, a new version of COMAR’s Case Management and Database System (SIRE) had been fully implemented in Mexico City and partially implemented in Tapachula, Monterrey, Tenosique and Palenque. The new system includes new functions and applications that enable case management across all COMAR’s working areas, from registration to decision making. All COMAR staff received user training. As a result, in Mexico City, the new self-service module from SIRE, known as “COMAR DIGITAL” has allowed for pre-registration online, which has reduced wait times and increased COMAR’s capacity to attend to claims three-fold.
Regarding COMAR Physical File Verification, Digitization and Reorganization, the delivery, testing, and implementation of 9 professional scanners at 7 COMAR offices was completed. UNHCR and COMAR undertook field missions to train COMAR staff from the archive area on the scanners’ use and to verify the scanners’ installation and good use in each COMAR office. This will ensure the sustainability of the digitization project as well as access to the digital archive directly from SIRE.