Mexico: Displacement due to criminal and communal violence
Abandoned home in Chihuahua because of drug-cartel violence. (Photo: El Universal/Jorge Serratos, June 2010)
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31 December 2012
Tens of thousands of people remained internally displaced across Mexico in 2012 as a result of inter-communal and intense criminal violence. People in Chiapas continued to live in protracted displacement, many years after the Zapatista uprising. The latest available figures put the total number of people displaced by all forms of violence and armed conflict at about 160,000.
Possibly the largest but least-acknowledged cause of new displacement was generalised drug-cartel violence and human rights abuses, in the form of fighting between cartels and government forces, extortions, kidnappings, assassinations and threats against civilians. These acts of violence have forced people to flee individually and en masse in both rural and urban areas.
While no new figures were available in 2012, census information correlated with data on homicides and violent crimes showed that most displacements took place in the states worst-affected by drug cartel violence, namely Baja California, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Guerrero, Michoacán, Nuevo León, San Luis Potosí, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas and Veracruz.
People fleeing have not necessarily found the safety they sought, and in some cases have continued to face violence and human rights abuses. Reports suggest that the cartels have forcibly recruited IDPs, sometimes in exchange for a promise of safe return to their places of origin, and in Sinaloa they and other criminal groups killed displaced people on several occasions in 2012.
Data also showed that IDPs had less access to labour markets, their children were less likely to stay in school and they had difficulties in finding adequate housing. Some lost or left behind their identity documents when fleeing, which hampered their access to social services, especially housing and health care.
The longest-running displacement situation was caused by the uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional or EZLN) in Chiapas in the 1990s, and the group’s subsequent confrontations with government forces. Most of the people displaced as a result have not achieved a durable solution. They have neither received their land back nor have they been compensated for their loss, even though 99 per cent of those affected are members of indigenous groups with an acknowledged special attachment to their land.
Indigenous IDPs in Chiapas live together in tightly knit communities and receive some support from the state government and international agencies. Given that many have lost access to their land and livelihoods, they have reportedly become poorer as a result of their displacement. Officials in Chiapas estimate that around 25,000 people who fled during the Zapatista uprising are still living in displacement.
Violence between and within indigenous communities in Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca states, often based on religious affiliation, has also caused displacement. The scale of the problem is unknown, however, and there is little or no information available on the situation and protection needs of those affected as these issues are often dealt with within the communities.
In February 2012, the Chiapas state congress passed a bill on internal displacement which had been drafted with the support of various UN agencies and civil society representatives. It is the first such law to be passed in Mexico, and it incorporates the Guiding Principles. Implementation, however, has been slow, few IDPs have benefitted so far and the government’s response to internal displacement has generally been insufficient to meet the needs of the displaced population.
The federal government has yet to officially acknowledge the displacement caused by drug-cartel violence, but opposition parties have taken steps towards political and legal recognition of the phenomenon. In November, the Institutional Revolutionary Party asked the then-president Felipe Calderón to submit an analysis of internal displacement in Mexico, and to make public the programmes and actions implemented during his term to address it.
In mid-December, the Party of the Democratic Revolution introduced a bill in the senate to establish a national legal, political and administrative framework for preventing internal displacement, assisting IDPs and finding durable solutions. Mexico’s new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who took office in December, has vowed to focus on reducing drug-cartel violence and protecting the civilian population.
Development agencies continued to provide support to the displaced in Chiapas, where UNDP has promoted IDPs’ local integration at their places of displacement within its wider development strategy for indigenous people. Mexico’s IDPs did not, however, receive any international humanitarian aid as the government has not sought support or set up a response system to manage it.
Mass displacement in Western Mexico
(26 May 2011)
Up to 700 people have been displaced in the Western Mexican State of Michoacán following a battle between rival factions of the La Familia drug Cartel on Tuesday. Villagers in hamlets near the area where the confrontation happened fled fearing more violence. They have found refuge in a church hall and in a water park in Buenavista Tomatlán. The Civil Defence Director reported that local authorities had provided blankets, mats, and food, but no further information about the conditions of the IDPs was available. This is the largest case of mass displacement in Mexico since the violence broke out in early 2007. In nearby Nayarit State, 28 people were found dead near the town of Ruiz, also as a result of a confrontation between rival cartels.
Meanwhile, further South in the State of Guerrero, 54 families have been displaced from the settlement of La Laguna following threats from an armed group. They have reportedly been threatened again in their place of displacement, prompting local authorities to dispatch more police forces to protect them.
See also: IDMC Mexico country page
There are currently several situations of internal displacement in Mexico. Possibly the largest has been caused since 2007 by the violence of drug cartels and the government’s military response. This has caused displacement in the states of Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Durango, Guerrero, Sinaloa and Michoacán.
This displacement has been little documented, and more comprehensive studies of its scale and impact are needed. Three cases of mass displacement reportedly caused the displacement of some 3,000 people; otherwise the violence has caused gradual displacement which has been reported only rarely. However, a research centre which documented displacement in Ciudad Juárez found that up to 220,000 people had left their place of residence in the area over three years as a result of the violence, of which about half reportedly remained in the country as IDPs. A private consultancy report cited by several media sources has suggested that the violence has internally displaced 1.6 million people in the last five years; however the report is not publicly available and the basis of the figure is unknown. (...)
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25 November 2011
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Internal Displacement Profile
"Resumen del Informe en español","Resumen del Informe en español"
"Causes and Background","Background","Causes of displacement","Peace efforts"
"Population Figures and Profile","Global figures","Geographical distribution","Disaggregated data"
"Patterns of Displacement","General"
"Physical Security & Freedom of Movement","Physical security","Freedom of movement"
"Subsistence Needs","General","Food","Health","Water and sanitation","Shelter and non-food items"
"Access to Education","General"
"Issues of Self-Reliance and Public Participation","General","Public participation"
"Documentation Needs and Citizenship","General"
"Issues of Family Unity, Identity and Culture","General"
"Patterns of Return and Resettlement","Return","Resettlement"
"National and International Responses","National Response","International Response","Selected NGO activities","Selected activities of the Red Cross Movement","Recommendations","Reference to the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement"
Previous Profile updates
- Key Documents
- Los olvidados de la guerra contra el narcotráfico en México, Sebastián Albuja and Laura Rubio, 31 October 2011
- Generalized criminal violence in Mexico: basis, priorities, and challenges for humanitarian engagement, Sebastián Albuja, 30 June 2011
- Mexico y sus desplazados, Parametría, 17 June 2011
- La guerra ha expulsado de sus hogares a 230 mil personas: ONG, La Jornada (LJ), 26 March 2011
- Mexico's refugees: a hidden cost of the drugs war, Reuters, 17 February 2011
- Viviendas deshabitadas: efecto de la crisis económica, la violencia y la inseguridad en Ciudad Juárez, Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez, 31 January 2011
- Mexico’s Drug Trafficking Organizations: Source and Scope of the Rising Violence, Congressional Research Service, 7 January 2011
- Derechos y Cultura Indígena, Acuerdos de San Andres, 18 January 1996