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Mexico says it won't deport refugees as it seeks details on US plan

[MEXICO CITY] Mexico's government said on Friday it wanted more details from the United States on its plan to send migrants to Mexico while their asylum claims are processed, and vowed not to deport people seeking refuge.

On Thursday, Mexico said it had agreed on humanitarian grounds to accept some non-Mexican migrants sent by the United States to wait in Mexico while their US asylum requests were processed.

However, many questions remain about how the country would house what could be thousands of people from Central America.

The accord was widely viewed as a concession by Mexico's new president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to his US counterpart Donald Trump, who has threatened to shut down the Mexico-US border if the flow of migrants is not contained.

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Questioned at a regular news conference about why Mexico appeared to be giving Trump what he wanted, foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard said Mexico would set out its position more clearly on Monday once it had more information.

"Today, I'm going to ask the US authorities to give us many details," Mr Ebrard said, noting that the fate of migrants already inside the United States would depend on US law.

To send people to Mexico, the Trump administration is invoking a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that allows the government to return migrants to a foreign country bordering the United States pending their immigration process.

But some legal experts argue that rule also exempts anyone found inadmissible at the border due to a lack of documents. That could apply to many asylum-seekers.

Mr Ebrard sought to defend the leftist Lopez Obrador administration's stance as a humanitarian gesture rather than a political one.

"Mexico will not deport people looking for asylum," he said. "That would go against Mexico's tradition in favor of the right to asylum, it would go against migrants' human rights."

It is unclear how many migrants the new policy could end up returning to Mexico, and Ebrard said he did not believe the measure could be applied retroactively.

Speaking at the same conference, deputy interior minister Alejandro Encinas said the government anticipated that migrant flows to Mexico would increase "significantly" next year, though not necessarily due to more people seeking asylum.

Mexico has pledged to provide work visas to migrants and Mr Encinas said that the government's public works plans in the south of the country could attract laborers.

Mr Ebrard reiterated that Mexico was not making a deal to become a "safe third country," which would oblige those seeking asylum who arrive first in Mexico to apply for asylum there.

"We haven't signed a deal, we're not going to, nor is the whole asylum procedure going to happen inside Mexico," he said. 

REUTERS