Media Releases

Canada Should Remove Mexico from Refugee ‘Safe’ List

June 20, 2016

New report highlights how Mexico remains unsafe, particularly for people affected by HIV

Toron­to, ON – Cana­da should remove Mex­i­co from its refugee ‘safe’ list because of the country’s seri­ous human rights abus­es, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Inter­na­tion­al Human Rights Pro­gram (IHRP) said in a new report released today. Fail­ure to do so could place Cana­da in vio­la­tion of its inter­na­tion­al legal oblig­a­tions.

The 54-page report, “‘Unsafe’ and on the Mar­gins: Canada’s Response to Mexico’s Mis­treat­ment of Sex­u­al Minori­ties and Peo­ple Liv­ing with HIV,” is based on IHRP field research in Mex­i­co, includ­ing inter­views with more than 50 Mex­i­can health­care providers, human rights activists, mem­bers of the les­bian, gay, bisex­u­al, trans­gen­der and inter­sex (LGBTI) com­mu­ni­ty, peo­ple liv­ing with HIV, jour­nal­ists, and aca­d­e­mics, all of whom tes­ti­fy to wide­spread dis­crim­i­na­tion and rights-vio­la­tions in Mexico’s health­care deliv­ery. The release of the report, fund­ed by the Elton John AIDS Foun­da­tion, coin­cides with World Refugee Day on June 20 as well as Canada’s first-ever pride month.

Despite some pro­gres­sive leg­is­la­tion, includ­ing uni­ver­sal health­care and a fed­er­al com­mit­ment to non-dis­crim­i­na­tion, in prac­tice, Mexico’s most vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties con­tin­ue to encounter sig­nif­i­cant obsta­cles to access­ing these rights. As a result, the coun­try remains unsafe for many, par­tic­u­lar­ly peo­ple liv­ing with HIV or at height­ened risk of infec­tion, and espe­cial­ly sex­u­al minori­ties and mar­gin­al­ized pop­u­la­tions. Nev­er­the­less, Mex­i­co appears on Canada’s des­ig­nat­ed coun­try of ori­gin (DCO) list, which enti­tles Mex­i­can claimants to only half the time claimants from non-DCO coun­tries get to pre­pare their claims, and cre­ates the pos­si­bil­i­ty of pre­judg­ment among deci­sion-mak­ers, the report said.

“While Mex­i­co has under­tak­en sig­nif­i­cant reforms to com­bat dis­crim­i­na­tion and human rights vio­la­tions, peo­ple liv­ing with HIV, sex­u­al minori­ties and oth­er vul­ner­a­ble Mex­i­cans still have lit­tle pro­tec­tion when their rights are vio­lat­ed,” said Samer Mus­cati, IHRP direc­tor. “Mexico’s fail­ure to inves­ti­gate and hold per­pe­tra­tors account­able for vio­lent crimes against mar­gin­al­ized pop­u­la­tions is com­plete­ly at odds with Canada’s des­ig­na­tion of the coun­try as ‘safe’.”

The report rais­es con­cerns that Cana­da is cir­cum­vent­ing its inter­na­tion­al legal oblig­a­tions by keep­ing Mex­i­co on the ‘safe’ coun­try list. As a sig­na­to­ry to the 1951 Refugee Con­ven­tion and the 1967

Pro­to­col, Cana­da has a duty to not dis­crim­i­nate against refugee claimants by rea­son of their race, reli­gion or coun­try of ori­gin.

Accord­ing to the report, sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion and unlaw­ful denial of health­care to peo­ple liv­ing with HIV and pop­u­la­tions at height­ened risk of infec­tion con­tra­vene Mexico’s inter­na­tion­al legal oblig­a­tions. Prop­er and time­ly HIV treat­ment can mean a healthy life-span for peo­ple liv­ing with HIV, but late diag­no­sis or lack of con­sis­tent treat­ment cre­ates a high risk of life-threat­en­ing infec­tion and high­er like­li­hood of trans­mis­sion.

Fur­ther­more, Mexico’s fail­ure to ade­quate­ly fund HIV pre­ven­tion or edu­ca­tion pro­grams has con­tributed to a cul­ture of stig­ma and dis­crim­i­na­tion against peo­ple liv­ing with HIV. Health advo­cates told the IHRP about igno­rance and mis­in­for­ma­tion about HIV with­in the med­ical com­mu­ni­ty, breach­es of con­fi­den­tial­i­ty, denial of health­care or seg­re­ga­tion with­in health­care cen­tres, and oth­er human rights abus­es against peo­ple liv­ing with HIV.

The report calls on Cana­da in its capac­i­ty as a cham­pi­on of human rights, both domes­ti­cal­ly and inter­na­tion­al­ly, and also as Mexico’s third-largest trad­ing part­ner. As expressed in the report’s rec­om­men­da­tions, Cana­da should urge Mex­i­co to ensure that peo­ple liv­ing with HIV are able to access health­care ser­vices free from obstruc­tion or dis­crim­i­na­tion. The report also encour­ages Cana­da to offer assis­tance to Mex­i­co to devel­op pro­to­cols for health­care pro­fes­sion­als to ensure equal and con­sis­tent access to health­care, with par­tic­u­lar empha­sis on peo­ple liv­ing with HIV, in accor­dance with Mexico’s inter­na­tion­al legal oblig­a­tions.

“A coun­try that reg­u­lar­ly denies access to fun­da­men­tal health rights and HIV treat­ment for its mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties can­not be called a ‘safe’ coun­try,” said Mus­cati. “Mex­i­co may be one of Canada’s largest trad­ing part­ners, but Cana­da has an oblig­a­tion to look past that rela­tion­ship and acknowl­edge the harsh real­i­ty fac­ing sex­u­al minori­ties and oth­ers affect­ed by HIV in Mex­i­co.

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“‘Unsafe’ and on the Mar­gins: Canada’s Response to Mexico’s Mis­treat­ment of Sex­u­al Minori­ties and Peo­ple Liv­ing with HIV,” is avail­able for down­load here:


Kristin Mar­shall, report co-author, super­vis­ing lawyer, IHRP:
Samer Mus­cati, Direc­tor, IHRP:

For more infor­ma­tion and to arrange for inter­views, con­tact:

Samer Mus­cati
Direc­tor, Inter­na­tion­al Human Rights Pro­gram
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, Fac­ul­ty of Law
(416) 946‑8730
Lucian­na Cic­co­ciop­po
Direc­tor, Exter­nal Rela­tions
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, Fac­ul­ty of Law
(416) 946‑0334