Mexico: Dangerous Crossings

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It was early in the morning when a young Guatemalan and ten other migrants walking along a railroad in Veracruz were violently confronted and held hostage by an armed group:  “They beat us all without exception, burned us with cigarettes, kicked us and [we] remained kidnapped for three days.”

This harrowing story is one of hundreds of first-hand accounts collected as part of a recent special report by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) in an effort to raise awareness about the mounting problem surrounding the kidnapping of migrants within Mexico.  CNDH officials traced migrants through a national network of migrant shelters and detention centers (La Red del Registro Nacional de Agresiones a Migrantes) dedicated to tracking migrant attacks and abuse, and also utilized information provided by the Mexican Episcopate Conference on Human Mobility (La Dimensión Pastoral de la Movilidad Humana de la Conferencia del Episcopado Mexicano).  Over the course of a six month period (September 2008 through February 2009) officials interviewed migrants and obtained testimonies, uncovering cases in which over 9,500 migrants were impacted.

Alarmingly, these numbers don’t represent the full scope of this grave problem. Many kidnappings go unreported by migrants who are fearful of repercussions by police or other authorities

or are unaware of how to report such crimes in unfamiliar surroundings. The report puts forward that the majority of migrants who are kidnapped are Central Americans en route to the United States; and their unfamiliarity with the route through Mexico makes them vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous authorities and opportunistic criminals.

Many reports from migrants tell of suffering from beatings, sexual assaults and other torture at the hands of their kidnappers while held captive in “security houses” until family members can be contacted to round up the ransom demands.  Often, women and girls are raped by captors and even sold into prostitution. Sometimes kidnapped victims are murdered irregardless of whether or not families comply with the captor's demands.  The horrific abuses migrants suffer, like those experienced by marginalized populations in Mexico, are too frequently met with impunity as these cases are seldom investigated or prosecuted and the perpetrators rarely held accountable.

Authorities themselves, including municipal and state police, were identified by migrants as captors.  This is just one of many indicators of the need for dramatic measures to reform and strengthen accountability and oversight over police to reduce exploitation of vulnerable populations.

In an effort to combat impunity and discrimination, the CNDH provided recommendations to the heads of the Secretariat for Public Security (Secretaria de Seguridad Pública) and the commissioner of the National Migration Institute. Two of the recommendations cited are: to include migrants as a vulnerable group under law so that they gain special protection under public security programs, and to ensure that migration officials are held accountable in making migrants aware of their right to denounce human rights violations committed against them.  To review the CNDH report, click herePara leer el informe, haga clic aquí.

The concern regarding the abuses committed against migrants in Mexico goes well beyond the CNDH.  Civil society, including nongovernmental organizations like Sin Fronteras and the Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Matías de Cordova, have played key roles in raising awareness about human rights violations committed against migrants in Mexico and work to create better policies and programs towards migrants in Mexico.

Faith communities and their ministries have also called attention to migration within the Americas and the greater risks and threats migrants face in the wake of hostile authorities, gangs, and organized crime.  In early June, Catholic bishops from Central America, Mexico, Canada, and the United States released a joint statement in Tecún Umán, Guatemala on the need for regional cooperation in addressing migration within the hemisphere.  To read the statement, click herePara leer en español, haga clic aquí.

For more information on transmigrants in Mexico, check out LAWG's publication, The Forgotten Border.