Mexico. New arrivals get support from UNHCR and local authorities ©UNHCR/Arturo Almenar
Entities sharing this good practice: Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR)
Submitted by: Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR)
Key stakeholders: UNHCR Mexico
Visit their website: https://www.gob.mx/comar
The Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR) implements merged procedures applying the expanded definition proposed by the Cartagena Declaration, with a view to implementing a more agile, efficient and quality refugee status determination (RSD) procedures. These procedures speed up the registration and eligibility stages for certain profiles of applicants in vulnerable conditions and with a high inclusion rate.
In the three years prior to the adoption of this measure, asylum applications in Mexico had increased exponentially, reaching 14,619 applicants in 2017, 29,631 in 2018 and 70,609 in 2019. In 2020, with the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, COMAR registered 41,303 applicants. This situation affected the institutional response capacity, mainly in terms of efficient processing of applications.
With the support of the Quality Initiative (QAI) and technical advice from UNHCR, COMAR has reviewed all stages of the procedure, with a view to expeditious processing. Thus, in order to strengthen eligibility, various tools (e.g. interview guide, COI and decisions template) were developed to implement procedures for applicants with high inclusion rates, applying the regional refugee definition under the Cartagena Declaration of 1984 (incorporated in the national legislation).
While this measure provided protection to a significant number of asylum-seekers, the processing capacity of COMAR needed to be improved (the official number of pending applications at the end of 2020 was 83,815).
In parallel with this initiative, COMAR adopted a strategy to reduce the backlog that included, among others, the strengthening of the registration system, documentation, filing of records and handling of individual cases; the restructuring of protection teams (eligibility), division by nationality and establishment of team goals; the continuity and expansion of the implementation of diversified case processing strategies.
COMAR decided to start the application of merged procedures with a pilot program in Mexico City:
- Through a triage mechanism in the registry (lasting 5-10 minutes), it is determined whether the case – based on established vulnerability criteria – can be referred to the merged procedure. If so, in a single day, the person is admitted to the procedure, documented, interviewed, receives information on assistance services according to specific needs, and is finally scheduled to receive the response to the request within the next 15 business days. Two registration officers and two protection officers were appointed to work on this Mexico City pilot program, with a goal of four cases per day per officer.
- This pilot started on 2 March 2020, and initially a duration of nine weeks was planned, after which an evaluation and adjustments would be made with a view to initiating the procedure systematically in the capital and starting the pilot project at the representation office in Tapachula, Chiapas. However, the national contingency plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19 forced COMAR to suspend this pilot as of 23 March. In the first three weeks of implementation, 55 people benefited from this procedure. The pilot plan could only be continued from 5 October 2020 with a series of operational modifications specific to the context of the pandemic (work shifts, sanitary measures, etc). The Pilot Plan was extended to Tapachula from 2 November to 23 December 2020 and 227 people were recognized. Between January and March 2021, 294 cases have been resolved. Daily goals per officer average 2.52 cases per day.
- For the start-up of the pilot, an information package was developed containing: checklist for triaging; monitoring and evaluation criteria; scripts for informative and orientation talks in the stages of registration, eligibility and assistance); COI of each nationality by profiles; interview script by profiles; decisions; registration application format; information form; checklist with approximate times for each stage;
- Joint workshops were held between COMAR and UNHCR to review and readjust the flow of procedures and preparation of materials.
- During the first weeks, the identification of the profiles for the merged procedure was carried out in a coordinated manner between the registration unit and the protection unit, to ensure quality and common understanding.
Impact of the good practice
- 55 people were recognized in three weeks (from 2-23 March 2020) following this procedure and another 17 were recognized in the period from 5 to 23 October. Since then, COMAR has been applying the merged procedure to decide cases in some offices.
- The average duration of the entire procedure during the pilot in Mexico City, including documentation, was 7.5 hours (4.5 hours for registration and 3 hours between the protection and assistance departments)
- At the operational level, the pilot demonstrated: –
- That the follow-up of the “checklist” of the procedural stages helps to control procedural times and all applicants obtain their documentation at the end of the day, including the summons to receive the decision (notification and decision).
- That the use by officials of the report KOBO to collect and manage dataserves to show numerical results.
- That decision templates, although significantly shortened (from 15 to 6 pages), still take 30 minutes to be finalized, being the “results” section, the verification of the identity of the person, and the documents provided, the parts that require most time.
- That the average time per eligibility interview was 30 minutes.
- At first, the implementation required a change in the mindset of the people involved in interviewing and analyzing the cases, since it implied a different work modality from the one, they were accustomed to.
- The strengthening of triage mechanisms, which involve training and the availability of tools to carry them out, remains a challenge.
- The lack of adequate space in COMAR offices makes it difficult to organize logistics and, therefore, causes delays in the flow of the procedure.
- This procedure demonstrates the benefits of implementing diversified case-processing strategies in the face of significant growth in asylum applications.
- Monitoring the implementation of differentiated procedures is crucial to their effective implementation and the achievement of the proposed objectives. This monitoring includes the establishment of specific deadlines between the different stages and the preparation of the necessary documents.