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EU, others work on refugee job development in Latin America

February 13, 2020 GMT
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FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2020 file photo, migrants line up behind an Honduran flag at the border crossing between Guatemala and Mexico in Tecun Uman, Guatemala. The European Union said on Thursday, Feb. 13, that it's donating 4 million euros ($4.3 million) to help refugees in Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras find living-wage jobs and better integrate into society. The announcement in Mexico City on Thursday came as the number of asylum seekers in Mexico in particular has skyrocketed. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)
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FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2020 file photo, migrants line up behind an Honduran flag at the border crossing between Guatemala and Mexico in Tecun Uman, Guatemala. The European Union said on Thursday, Feb. 13, that it's donating 4 million euros ($4.3 million) to help refugees in Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras find living-wage jobs and better integrate into society. The announcement in Mexico City on Thursday came as the number of asylum seekers in Mexico in particular has skyrocketed. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The European Union says it is donating 4 million euros ($4.3 million) to help refugees in Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras find living-wage jobs and better integrate into society.

The announcement in Mexico City on Thursday came as the number of asylum seekers in Mexico in particular has skyrocketed. Just over 70,300 people sought asylum in Mexico last year, and this year is already outpacing last. Nearly 6,000 people applied for asylum in January, a 50% increase over the same time last year.

Several organizations will be involved in carrying out the three-year initiative, which aims to create more job opportunities and protections for asylum seekers.

In Mexico, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has been working with government officials to place people in central and northern Mexico cities, where there are more jobs. Migrants who have been granted asylum and therefore can legally work contributed 40.6 million pesos ($2.1 million) to the Mexican economy last year, according to the EU.

Extreme violence, poverty, political conflict and food and medicine scarcity have driven tens of thousands of people to leave their home countries in Latin America and elsewhere around the world.

In Costa Rica, a nation of about 5 million people, nearly 60,000 migrants sought asylum last year. Most are Nicaraguans who are highly educated and in professional fields. Hundreds of Nicaraguans were killed and thousands were injured during anti-government protests in 2018 in what human rights advocates say has been an egregious crackdown on dissent.

In addition to instability in Latin America, the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump have made it extremely difficult for asylum seekers to find refuge in the United States, forcing many to stay in Mexico.

People who are granted asylum in the Mexico get permanent residency in the country, meaning they can work and eventually become citizens. But many aren’t equipped to find steady work.

Gerardina González Marroquín, director of the International Labor Organization for Mexico and Cuba, said the agreement signed Thursday will fortify relationships between non-governmental groups that help migrants.

“We are absolutely convinced that working is the best form of social integration, that work dignifies a person, that work solves poverty, that work generates growth,” González Marroquín said.

“But not just any type of job,” she said, adding that refugees need to find dignified work that pays a living wage and offers worker protections.