Country: Mexico
Timeframe: 2021-2023

Entities sharing this good practice: Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR)

Submitted by: Ms. Cinthia Perez Trejo, General Director, Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR)

Key stakeholders: UNHCR

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Good Practice

In 2023, Mexico ranked 7th globally amongst the countries receiving the largest number of new individual asylum applications. The number of applications has remained high over a number of years. In 2021 the country registered 131.414 new asylum applications, in 2022 there were 118.542, and the year 2023 closed with over 140.000 applications. This has presented multiple challenges to the country’s asylum system.

Since late 2018, the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR) has reviewed its internal processes in order to strengthen its individual case management system and implement simplification measures both at the registration and refugee status determination (RSD) levels. In order to address challenges relating to the availability of a reliable case management system and file management, a Digital Transformation Strategy was implemented to ensure the timely processing of asylum applications through the use of available technologies.

With technical and financial support from Canada as well as UNHCR, the Digital Transformation projects have been implemented in COMAR at a national level, in line with global and regional commitments through GRF pledges and the Regional Asylum Capacity Building Initiative (RACBI).

The Digital Transformation projects initiated by COMAR in 2021, encompassed two key initiatives:

(1) The COMAR´s Files Digitization and Data Verification project: The COMAR´s Files Digitization and Data Verification project resulted in the digitization of more than 350,000 physical files in 9 COMAR offices nationwide. Thanks to technical and financial support from Canada, professional scanning equipment was provided to COMAR, and specialized staff was trained to use the File Tracking System to ensure the continuation of the digitization and archive management. Data Verification resulted in cleaning and updating data to consolidate COMAR´s database fed by the new version of the Refugee Information System (SIRE). Through data analysis, bottleneck and backlog can be identified and cases can be assigned to different case modalities or closed accordingly.

(2) The COMAR´s Case Management System – SIRE – Integral Development project: This resulted in turning COMAR´s Registration System into an integral case management system allowing the automatization of the asylum procedure such as: issuing COMAR’s documentation, automatic exchange of Country-of-Origin Information with other government institutions, Triaging or assigning cases to the different case modalities, and managing statistics, among others.

Thanks to the implementation of both projects following the same timeline and coherence, the File Tracking System and SIRE are interoperable, allowing all users to access digitized casefiles through SIRE. Interoperable schemes have been key in facilitating processes between COMAR and other government authorities such as the National Migration Institute (INM), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), National Registry of Population and Identity (RENAPO), and reducing overall processing time for the benefit of asylum seekers. Additionally, a new digital tool was included into SIRE to facilitate managing Interpretation services; from the instant the eligibility officer identifies the language needed to conduct the interview for the asylum-seeker, COMAR can process the request through a private company and schedule the eligibility interview accordingly.

UNHCR, through its Quality Assurance Initiative (QAI) team based in COMAR, initially conducted assessments of each step of the asylum procedure. These assessments’ results informed the design of the Digital Transformation projects, which were implemented using the technical services of a private company under the joint supervision of QAI/UNHCR and COMAR. The methodology used was based on capacity development, enhancing ownership of the projects by governmental authorities.

Impact of the good practice

On Beneficiaries and Stakeholders´ Engagement:

–           By law COMAR must request Country of Origin Information (COI) to the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (SRE), the equivalent of a Ministry of Foreign Affairs for each case to be adjudicated. Before the new version of SIRE, COI exchange between the two institutions would require longer processing times (weeks or even months) and dedicated staff to be processed due to a complex case by case documentation exchanging protocol. Now, the SRE has exclusive access to COMAR’s case management system, SIRE, and the COI exchange is entirely automated; when existing COI is uploaded by country in the system, it will automatically be assigned to its respective case, and when new COI is needed, the SRE will be notified online to upload new content. Additionally, as COMAR has its own COI Research Unit in charge of updating information and training the eligibility officers, SIRE now also serves as a COI repository, and when complementary information is needed for case analysis, the officers can look for the information in SIRE, through tags that are assigned by the COI unit to facilitate the information search.

–           Thanks to the Digital Transformation efforts in COMAR, the overall processing time for beneficiaries such as asylum-seekers and refugees has significantly reduced from the day their claim is registered to the day their resolution is notified. By the end of 2023, over 60% of registered claims were processed within 90 days while 25% of the registered claims were processed and concluded within just 20 days.

–           Nowadays, asylum-seekers and refugees can request information about their case status in any of COMAR’s offices. Additionally, COMAR staff can swiftly access relevant information through SIRE within a few clicks thanks to the seamless interoperability between the SIRE and File Tracking systems.

On Sustainability and Ownership:

–           By allocating new staff and material resources to archive management and digitization, COMAR developed its capacity to manage both digital and physical archives. Notably, COMAR now independently manages its files digitization process, relying on its own internal resources rather than external support or private companies. This self-sufficiency ensures efficiency in managing critical records.

–           Through the projects´ implementation, COMAR developed capacity, team cohesion and shared responsibility between operational and technical teams to meet operational needs and ensure long-term sustainability.

For example:

–           The operational team (Registration/archive staff) closely monitors the digitization performance at each COMAR office to ensure continuity of the digitization process and assesses resource needs (both material and human).

–           The technical team (Statistical unit staff) oversees critical systems like SIRE and the File Tracking System). They work closely with the operational team to provide technical support. When necessary, they can travel to COMAR offices to assess needs or address any technical challenges.

–           Both the operational and technical teams provide on-going training about SIRE and the File Tracking systems to all users through online training sessions and missions to the field. The technical team, in particular, shares updates on new digital tools through a weekly newsletter which is available to all users directly on their SIRE home page.

–           COMAR is creating and using manuals to ensure proper usage and maintenance of the technical tools including about the digitization professional equipment.

–           Overall, the Digital Transformation is contributing to make COMAR´s processes more efficient – through the processes´ automatization and homologation, fairer – the implementation of Triage and RSD tools, and faster – COI available and documentation issuance through the system.

Lessons learned

Staff deployment:

One of the Project´s challenges were to create new teams assigned to System´s management and Archive and Digitization duties in COMAR. New staff is key to prevent existing staff from taking over additional tasks and deviating focus from their initial ones. UNHCR supported the hiring of new staff in COMAR to be working on the Digital Transformation projects; COMAR´s Statistics Unit (responsible for coordinating internal projects and managing new systems,) grew from 3 staff in Mexico City in 2020 to 15 staff nationwide today. The Archive Area is now considered a new working area within COMAR, with new staff and material resources assigned to manage document archives effectively.

User´s requirements assessments:

During the initial phase of the SIRE project, there were challenges related to assessing user requirements, with many actors from management to the operational teams. Of course, it was key to get as many actors as possible to build the sense of ownership, although it resulted in hours-long debating meetings. Respecting the methodology and time management guidelines previously defined by the supervision team was essential to provide a frame to the assessment sessions; this way all inputs were duly documented and discussed in a constructive way, considering the respective time and agenda of the session.


In the implementation process, some users of the new SIRE version were identified to be role models as they showed enthusiasm in the use of new digital tools and as they were popular within their area of operation in COMAR. They were called “Champions” to give them more visibility, and they were invited to implementation missions on the field to train other users and advocate for the benefits of Digital Transformation. As part of the communication campaign in COMAR, to encourage users to use SIRE correctly and learn about the new functions and updates, Champions will play the important role to share knowledge with other users.

Scope adaptation:

Throughout the implementation of the digitization project, files that were not part of the scope of the project were identified. As a result, the scope of the total casefiles to be digitized increased. In terms of the contract with the private company, it was necessary to predict a change of scope applying an additional percentage to the total scope. On the operational level, effective communication and coordination with the different COMAR offices helped in preparing the caseload before the arrival of the private company and start of the digitization operation. After the digitization operation, when physical archive that was not part of the scope was identified, COMAR managed to plan a mission with archive staff from another office to assist in the digitization of the extra load to avoid any potential bottlenecks.

Change Management:

To ensure ownership and sustainability of the Digital Transformation in COMAR, a few strategies were implemented. Firstly, a participative methodology was adopted when assessing users’ requirements. Working groups were created reuniting actors representing the different operational areas within COMAR, and participation was encouraged at all steps of the project´s design and implementation. Then, staff and material resources deployments were needed to prevent a structural disruption in the daily operation. In both projects, celebrating milestones was important for COMAR to own each achievement – small or big wins – of the overall process that required time and hard work. Finally, through regional platforms and global events, COMAR has been showcasing the achievements of their asylum system´s Digital Transformation, leading to more funding and ownership of the projects.