Migrants in Mexico: Invisible Victims of Abuse

April 29, 2010

Every year, tens of thousands of women, men and children make “the most dangerous journey in the world” through Mexico as irregular migrants. More than nine out of every 10 are Central Americans. The vast majority are heading to the US fleeing the poverty and insecurity.

Not only do migrants have to travel across all of Mexico, but some must travel through other Central American countries as well such as Guatemala or El Salvador. But it is not only the length of the journey that is so dangerous, but the human rights abuses the migrants are subject to along the way, and the chilling impunity some of the perpetrators enjoy. For female travelers, 6 out of every 10 encounter sexual abuse. In the six month period between September 2008 and March 2009: 9,758 migrants were kidnapped, many of which said that public officials and police officers were either involved or complicit in the kidnapping.

Not only are migrants the targets of abuse, kidnapping, and human trafficking, but migrant defenders are also targeted as they try to protect the human rights of this at-risk population. One such defender, Father Solalinde, who runs a migrant shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec, was notified of abductions of migrants off trains near Ciudad Ixtepec. After notifying the press and assembling a group of supporters, Father Solalinde went to inspect a complex where criminal gangs were suspected of holding the abducted migrants. After discovering convincing evidence that the migrants had recently been in the building, the local police arrived, detained Father Solalinde and 18 other people who accompanied him. Those 18 individuals were Guatemalan immigrants who then went before the Mexican Immigration Service. Father Solalinde said in his struggle to protect the rights of migrants “the biggest challenge for me to overcome is the constant intimidation, harassment and disrespect from people who don’t want me to carry out my work”.

A researcher for Amnesty International, said: “Migrants in Mexico are facing a major human rights crisis leaving them with virtually no access to justice, fearing reprisals and deportation if they complain of abuses”.

In Amnesty International’s new report called Invisible Victims: Migrants on the Move in Mexico, various abuses against migrants in Mexico are documented and the stories of victims are told.

The Mexican government has committed itself to protect migrants’ rights in Mexico, and has taken some welcome measures to address this dire situation, for example, focusing on improved protection of unaccompanied minors. However, authorities have yet to institute coordinated and concerted measures to prevent and punish the frequent abuses against tens of thousands of migrants travelling through Mexico.

I hope that the Mexican government acts soon to protect the lives of tens of thousands of migrants.

Aaron Barnard-Luce contributed to this post