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By Jose Torres and Jose Luis Gonzalez

TAPACHULA, Mexico, Tues. Nov 23, 2021 (Reuters) – Several thousand Haitian migrants on Monday clustered outside a stadium in southern Mexico that has been re-purposed into a migration office, urging authorities to let them pass freely through Mexico.

Two caravans of migrants largely from Haiti and Central America have departed from the southern city of Tapachula in recent weeks, many taking off on foot for the long journey in hopes of reaching the U.S.-Mexico border.

Thousands of people have also remained in Tapachula, close to the Guatemala border, where they are applying for refugee status and hope to receive visas to let them transit the country.

About 130,000 people will have requested asylum or protected status by year’s end, Mexico’s Interior Ministry projected on Monday. More than 50,000 of the 116,500 applications received so far this year were from Haitians, it added.

Migrants typically request asylum as a first step to receive a visa letting them travel freely within Mexico.

“We need documents to be able to move around here in Mexico,” said Haitian migrant Robinson, 31, who declined to give his last name, adding that fellow migrants who try to cross the country without a proper visa get sent back to Tapachula.

“It can’t be this way,” he said, speaking outside the stadium, where Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) has set up makeshift offices to handle a surge in demand.

INM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The rise in the number of Haitians trying to make their way through Mexico has been spurred by economic malaise, an earthquake and political turmoil following the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise in July.

The group outside the stadium in Tapachula on Monday also included Cuban and Venezuelan migrants.

About 100 kms (62 miles) away in the city of Mapastepec, a northbound migrant caravan with about 2,500 people, mostly from Haiti, took a break after walking since before dawn.

Loubens Narcisse said he hoped to land a visa more easily in another state of Mexico, even if he had to walk hundreds of kilometers.

“It’s not easy, but it can be done,” he said.

(Reporting by Jose Torres in Tapachula and Jose Luis Gonzalez in Mapastepec; Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz and Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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