The dangerous journey of migrants through Mexico

The northern border of Mexico is considered the most crossed-over border in the world. But with an increasing influx of migrants mainly from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua trying to reach the United States, Mexico’s southern border has also become one of the most fluid crossing points for migrants.

Hundreds of migrants riding on top of a train in Mexico © EPA/Juan de Dios Garcia DavishGeography, history and the country’s economic situation have made Mexico one of the most complex migration realities in the world. And, for a variety of reasons, the passage through Mexico has become increasingly dangerous for thousands of men, women and children who cross the country.

In their attempt to reach the northern border, many migrants, both Mexican and non-Mexican alike, are prey to smugglers, corrupt authorities, crime gangs, organ thieves, drug cartels, human traffickers and kidnappers. Many of the non-Mexican migrants arrive in Mexico already as victims of traffickers.

Migrants fall victim to beatings, abduction, rape and even murder along the way. Many end-up as slave labourers, others suffer extortion, often by corrupt police and public officials. An estimated six out of ten migrant women and girls experience sexual violence. Many migrants never reach their final destination.

Last year, mass graves were discovered in the states of Tamaulipas and Durango, in northern Mexico. The victims were found to migrants from Central and South America. In Tamaulipas the bodies of 14 out of 72 migrants still have to be identified. Two government investigators sent to the crime scene disappeared and their bodies found days later.

During her visit to Mexico in early July 2011, UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay met with human rights defenders working to uphold the rights of migrants and learned first hand of the difficult situations both migrants and those who work with them face.

Pillay urged the government “to make all possible efforts to protect the life and integrity of migrants, in particular women and children, and to prevent trafficking.” She also expressed concern over the situation of the “brave and committed people” working to protect migrants’ rights in Mexico and who have often been subject to attacks and death threats. Among them are human rights defenders and local Catholic Church priests, such as Alejandro Solalinde, Pedro Pantoja and Heyman Vazquez, , who run a network of shelters to provide necessary humanitarian aid to migrants.

The shelters play an important double role: they provide food, legal assistance, counselling to thousands of migrants who travel through Mexico, and also conduct public advocacy and denounce human rights violations against migrants.

“I also urge all state officials to fully respect migrants’ rights,” said Pillay, “and to ensure that human rights defenders and police and judicial officials investigating violations against them are effectively protected.”

4 August 2011