Migrants – Victims of Crime, Not Criminals

Posted by admin on Feb 1st, 2011

By Emilio Godoy, IPS, Feb 1, 2011

MEXICO CITY – Although Central American migrants continue to face all kinds of abuses and even death on their way north through Mexico to the U.S. border, experts and activists have begun to see a slight change in approach to the issue. “The changes consist of a new attitude towards Mexico in Central America, which has prompted the Mexican government to react,” Leticia Calderón, a professor at the public ‘Doctor José María Luís Mora’ Research Institute, told IPS. “In addition, local authorities are reacting to the new demands.”

Increasing numbers of kidnappings and murders of migrants, mainly from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, as they make their way across Mexico have spurred human rights defenders and academics to step up pressure on the authorities to take measures to guarantee respect for the rights of undocumented migrants and to clamp down on the organised crime groups involved in such activities.

An estimated 500,000 undocumented migrants from Central and South America cross Mexico every year in their attempt to reach the United States, according to estimates based on official statistics and figures from NGOs.

Along the way, they face the risk of arbitrary arrest, extortion, theft, assault, rape, kidnapping and murder, at the hands of youth gangs and organised crime, as well as corrupt police and other agents of the state.

“The issue has now been exposed; it can no longer be denied, at least,” Fabienne Venet, director of the Institute of Dissemination of Studies on Migration (INEDIM), told IPS. “We want to see them adopt programmes to protect migrants. We want a response: investigation of crimes, access to justice, and protection.”

Although the dangers faced in Mexico by undocumented migrants attempting to make it to the United States are not new, two high-profile incidents last year prompted an increase in efforts by activists to get the issue addressed.

The mass killing of 72 undocumented migrants, mostly Central Americans, on a remote ranch in the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas in August made headlines around the world. The authorities blamed the massacre on Los Zetas, a criminal organisation that dominates the migrant kidnapping racket

And in December, some 50 migrants were kidnapped in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, and have been missing since.

The route followed by the migrants runs south to north through the states of Tabasco, Chiapas, Oaxaca, Veracruz and Tamaulipas. The Mexican government has identified 25 municipalities that are particularly dangerous for migrants along the way.

These incidents and complaints and demands voiced by the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras led the administration of conservative President Felipe Calderón to make diplomatic moves to calm the growing tension.

After the massacre in Tamaulipas, the government launched a strategy to fight the kidnapping of migrants, which has included the drawing up of a map of crime levels along the route northward, expediting investigations of kidnappings, tracing ransom payments, and providing assistance to victims.

Mexican and Honduran authorities also set up a high level security group to address issues related to immigration.

And since December, the Mexican Congress has been debating a migration bill that recognises the right of undocumented migrants to education, health care and justice.

But experts say no actual results have yet been seen. “The prevailing view of immigration as a national security issue is worrying,” said Manuel Castillo, an academic at El Colegio de México, a college that specialises in the social sciences and the humanities.

“The mindset that sees migrants as criminals, rather than victims of crime, must be changed,” he said.

According to the National Human Rights Commission, a government agency, some 20,000 migrants were kidnapped in 2010.

The U.S. government has shared information with authorities in Mexico, providing names, dates and ransom payments made by family members to save their relatives.

A U.S. government cable leaked by the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks indicated that FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) agents freely interrogate undocumented migrants detained in Mexico, purportedly for counter-terrorism purposes.

“The changes are going to have an impact,” Leticia Calderón said. “The law, which is the product of work by academics and officials, will make the government react.”

Despite the magnitude of the immigration question in Mexico, no delegate from this nation is taking part in the three-day World Assembly of Migrants that opens Wednesday on the Senegalese island of Gorée.

The meeting is to adopt a World Charter on Migrants, which will proclaim freedom of movement, citizenship based on residence and not nationality, and equal rights between foreign nationals and citizens.

The Charter was first discussed at the Second World Social Forum on Migration held in Madrid in 2006 and at the First World Summit on Latin American Migrants in Morelia, Mexico in 2007.

“We need policies, more professional agents and officials, and shelters for kidnap victims,” Venet said. “Strategies can be proposed at different levels of the public administration, including the regional level.”

Some 400 migrants die every year trying to cross the U.S. border from Mexico, according to human rights groups. But there are no reliable estimates as to how many undocumented Latin American migrants die in Mexico on their way north. (END)

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