Nearly two years after US President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, Mexico is seeing a small but unusual spike in Afghan migrants who are seeking asylum or traversing through the country.
In January 2023, nearly 13,000 people registered applications for asylum in Mexico. Among them were 430 Afghans – the 7th highest nationality and the only nationality from outside the western hemisphere to make Mexico’s top 10 list, according to COMAR, the country’s refugee assistance agency.
COMAR’s head, Andrés Ramírez, believes many of the Afghans are headed to the US southern border.
“The Afghans are the kind of people that actually want to go to the US, that’s what our reading is because you know that the culture is so different from the Mexican culture,” Ramírez told CNN by phone.
Mexico’s asylum authority isn’t the only agency noticing more Afghans heading north.
Enrique Lucero, the migrant services head of the northern Mexican town of Tijuana, on the Mexico-US border, says he started seeing an increase in the number of Afghans in his city last April.
“They are trying to cross to the United States to [seek] asylum,” he said.
US data from the time period identified by Lucero does show an increase in the number of Afghans crossing the US southern border and being processed by immigration officials. According to US federal court documents, 410 Afghan adults were processed in January 2023 – a more than 1200 percent increase compared to May 2022, when US immigration authorities encountered just 31 Afghans.
Medical NGO Doctors Without Borders told CNN that it has also seen an increase in Afghans requesting services at its Mexico City location in recent months, according to Angel Resendiz, the group’s mobile health activity manager.
In January of this year, 119 Afghans received general health services information in Mexico City from Doctors Without Borders – nearly equaling the total number of Afghans served by the organization in all of 2022, when they saw 144 Afghan patients, Resendiz said.
The group provides a wide variety of informational and mental health services, including information on shelters, human rights, and social services.
“When these populations are forced to flee their home countries, it implies that they are exposed to vulnerable situations during their journeys. And the longer the journey, the more vulnerable situations they will likely face,” Resendiz said.
Given the relative rarity of Afghan migrants in Mexico, there is often a language barrier for services intended to assist migrants.
While most Afghans speak Pashto and Dari, Resendiz says his team only has English, French, Portuguese, Creole and Spanish speakers available, and that online translation services are not ideal for health-related services or medical diagnosis.
Tens of thousands of Afghans were evacuated to the US when the Taliban returned to power in 2021. The group’s takeover preceded a deepening humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, worsening issues that had long plagued the country and creating difficult conditions for those who remained.
After the takeover, the US and its allies froze about $7 billion of the country’s foreign reserves and cut off international funding – crippling an economy heavily dependent on overseas aid.
Already scarce humanitarian aid diminished further in December when the Taliban announced a ban on female NGO workers – prompting multiple major foreign aid groups to suspend their operations in the country.
A ban on women in Afghan universities has also prompted recent protests in the country.