In 2018, hundreds of migrants went missing in Mexico

After Mexico toughened its stance of migration, Central Americans opted for riskier routes

In 2018, hundreds of migrants went missing in Mexico
Although Mexico promised to welcome the migrants with open arms, they are being detained and deported - Photo: Guillermo Arias/AFP
English 07/11/2019 16:26 Mexico City Íñigo Arredondo y Monserrat Peralta Actualizada 16:32
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In November 2018, a few weeks after the migrant caravan entered Chiapas on its way to the U.S., two buses full of migrants suddenly disappeared. A group of men invited a group of between 80 and 100 people from different Central American countries, mostly women and children, to get into the vehicles that would take them to Sinaloa, where they were promised shelter and a job. Almost a year after the incident, no one knows where they are.

EL UNIVERSAL is reconstructing the story using the testimonies of anonymous witnesses.

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The migrants left Isla Blanca, in Veracruz, and traveled to Puebla with the intention of getting to Mexico City. In Isla Blanca, caravan members boarded cargo trucks; according to the witnesses, the drivers charged them different amounts.


The vehicles were covered using canvases. One of the persons who were in the truck's cabin got off the vehicle and made a list of the passengers.

Several trucks boarded my migrants used this same system and dropped off the crewmembers in Puebla. There, two buses were waiting.

According to witnesses, several people were expecting to see the migrant caravan. They gathered the Central American migrants and told them they would be given a job and a home in Sinaloa, and that they would earn a great salary. They asked the migrants for IDs but they never identified themselves as members of an organization.

There were no reports of violence or that those persons were armed or that they threatened the migrants.

From 2012 to 2019, the National Migration Institute (INM) registered 4,926 reports that involve crimes against migrants.

At least 51.4% of the crimes against migrants include kidnappings and human trafficking. Also, these crime rates have increased by 802% from 2012 to 2018 and were the most reported crimes in 2013, 2014, and 2018.

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EL UNIVERSAL reached out to the INM and requested an explanation about how these reports work and why were the 845 complainers sent back to their countries; nevertheless, there was no response.

For Alejandro de la Peña, who is in charge of the Attention and Services department at NGO Sin Fronteras (Without Borders), there likely is an underreporting: “This number reflects the victims of crimes who have been touch with Migration. This already implies the authorities' intervention because (the migrants) are facing an administrative procedure before the INM or because another authority rescued them from a crime process or from being the victims of a crime and put them in touch with the institute.”

“Nevertheless, there is a large number of people who are not in contact with authorities but that doesn't mean that they are not the victims of crime,” he explains.

For a migrant, being in contact with authorities and filing a complaint implies getting involved in a legal process in Mexico. De la Peña explains that this is the reason why migrants choose not to file a complaint since it would delay their journey.

Moreover, 2018 became the year with the largest number of reports filed by migrants before the INM. The statistics show that it increased from 106 victims in 2012 to 1,386 in 2018; this means a 1207% increase in six years.

At the same time, according to the migration institute, in the last years, there has been a rise in the detention of foreigners in Mexico: there were 93,000 detainees in 2017; in 2018, the number rose to 135,000, and in 2019 it hiked to 144,000. The majority of detainees were Central Americans.

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Making crimes visible

In Saltillo, Coahuila, NGO La Casa del Migrante (The Migrant's House), has reported massive kidnappings since 2009. Groups of migrants have told the organization that dozens of migrants traveling aboard the freight train were forced to board pickup trucks and then taken to safe houses.

“We have information about these types of events, mainly in complicated areas such as Tamaulipas, the state of Mexico, and Veracruz, where people were forced out of the buses and then disappeared. In the best cases, they talked about kidnappings and in the worst case, it was an (enforced) disappearance,” Alberto Xicoténcatl explained, the director of Casa del Migrante.

For Jan Jarab, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico, the human trafficking of migrants is just the tip of the iceberg because there is an enormous and unknown network of people behind human trafficking, furthermore, authorities in many states deny the problem.

“I remember that several authorities in Puebla told me that there is no human trafficking there, although there is information from civil society that says that this crime is very common in this state, in Tlaxcala, and in some other states. This problem is partially traversed by migration,” he said.

Jarab adds that if in general impunity has reached high levels in Mexico, the situation for migrants is even worse because authorities don't file their cases.

“There are reported cases where authorities have colluded with organized crime. It's very likely that by filing a complain, the one who loses their freedom is the migrant reporting (a crime).”

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Opacity in regards to the disappearance of migrants

For this investigation, journalists requested information from the Attorney General's Office (FGR) because it handles human trafficking cases; from the Puebla Attorney General's Office because it is overseeing the disappearance of the buses in 2018, as well as from the National Migration Institute. None of these government departments have issued a statement regarding the case.

“It seems to me that Mexico is currently a country where the risks for migrants are enormous,” Jarab said.

Furthermore, what President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to migrants during his electoral campaign and when he took office is far from becoming a reality because although he vowed to help Central Americans with jobs and protection in Mexico, the strategy changed to contention order and “rescue” missions, a euphemism for detention, and the National Guard was deployed to the roads in cities located near Mexico's southern border and to those that are transited by migrants on their journey to the U.S.

After signing an agreement with the U.S. to lower the migration flow, the Mexican government started to impose more barriers to stop migrants, something that has forced them to try to cross the border through more dangerous places.

However, states that are quite dangerous for migrants, such as Veracruz and Puebla, have few reports registered by the INM. In recent months, people have reported the murder of migrants in places far from road checkpoints, as well as accidents in rivers since migrants try to cross the river to avoid being caught.

Mexico's new migration policy has exposed the migrants to new routes that are not monitored.

Jan Jarab says that by taking new and dangerous routes, “migrants become less visible. They chose more dangerous routes by hiding.”

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