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Humanitarian crisis scenarios, Central American migrants in Mexico

Humanitarian crisis scenarios, Central American migrants in Mexico

Guillermo Castillo Ramírez

I did not go out for pleasure, I had to flee because they [a local gang] had already threatened and hit me several times in my neighborhood. If I stay, they will kill me. I left a day with nothing, I left behind my family. And that’s how I came to the border of Mexico, with the idea of going further north. I have a cousin there on the other side, in the United States. My idea is to speak to him as soon as I arrive there. He left a few years ago, he was a farmer, he could not find a job and the rains left him with nothing, so he decided to go to the United States.
Migrant from Central-America, March 2016

Forced migrants are one of the most devastating faces of global exclusion and neoliberal regimes. They are the dispossessed who were forced to leave their homes to survive, and in receiving countries they are criminalized and stigmatized - as if they were criminals - when they only seek opportunities that were denied to them in their societies of origin. They are the contemporary victims of a profoundly unequal world. They embody the vulnerable and aggrieved in a structurally unjust world order where, far from discourse and in fact, labor exploitation, accumulation of wealth and excessive consumption over the exercise of rights and human dignity are prioritized and predominated. ...

Those [migrants] who do not die in transit and are not captured and returned immediately, await a spectral existence of" invisible men ", exploitable bodies without documentation that guarantees minimum rights, will be tolerated, exploited and permanently threatened at the same time.
José A. Zamora, 2017

And in a world of conflicts, in a world of victims and executioners, the task of the thinking people must be - as Albert Camus suggested - not to be on the side of the executioners.
Howard Zinn, 2001.

To Balderrama, and the light and hope that she brings with her arrival….

Migration in the context of the accumulation of wealth and the increase of misery

The current dimension of international migration is related to the global dynamics of neoliberal capitalism and its effects. Every year the number of migrants in the world grows, as well as the records of forced displacements. In 2016, UNHCR indicated that there were almost 250 million migrants in the world by 2015 (UNHCR, 2016, CONAPO, 2015 and 2017). This accelerated growth of human beings in movement and social and labor precariousness is largely the result of the expansion of the processes of capital accumulation, which is characteristic of the neoliberal regimes of the countries of the global north.

The disarticulation of production systems in developing countries -such as Mexico and the countries of the northern triangle of Central America- meant that large sectors of their population, faced with the lack of employment and opportunities for socioeconomic development in their places of origin, migrated to the developed countries and insert themselves in the processes of labor internationalization through transnational productive chains. In this way, undocumented migrants act as cheap labor, legally vulnerable and highly exploitable, which, by lowering production costs, generate great wealth and increase the profit margins of transnational corporations and corporations.

However, another of the axes to understand the increase in international migration -particularly forced displacements- has to do with processes of geopolitical dispute, interventionism, armed conflicts and generalized contexts of violence. Last year, UNHCR highlighted that about 66 million people were forced displaced persons and among the most drastic examples of this were the cases of the Syrian conflict, the Palestinian refugees, the displaced Iraqis, the Africans fleeing poverty through the Mediterranean and Central Americans in transit through Mexico to reach the US (UNHCR, 2016). Forced displacement processes that involve, each one, humanitarian crises of thousands of people.

Central Americans in transit through Mexico

In 2015, according to estimates from the Migration Policy Unit of SEGOB, nearly 300,000 Central Americans traveled through Mexico with the intention of reaching the United States ; of these, almost 200 thousand people were arrested and almost 140 thousand were deported (Martínez, 2015). However, these calculations seem conservative and reductionist against the data of the UNHCR for 2016, who maintains that for several years it is estimated at close to half a million the annual average of people originating in the northern triangle of Central America without migratory documents that pass for our country (UNHCR, 2017 ; MSF, 2017).

Related to the increase in the number of migrants, there has also been a growth in the records of dead and disappeared migrants. According to data from the Missing Migrant Project, in the year of 2016 there were 180 deaths of migrants in Central America and 402 on the Mexico-US border, which represents a clear increase compared to the 111 migrants killed in Central America and 307 on the Mexico border. -EU of the year 2014 (Missing Migrant Project, 2017).

In clear conditions of vulnerability and without the guarantee of respect for their human rights, these Central Americans have been tragic protagonists of two of the most onerous processes of violence and exclusion in the recent history of Mexico. On the one hand, the massacre of San Fernando Tamaulipas occurred in 2010, in which dozens of migrants died cruelly murdered at the hands of organized crime ; and where the Mexican State was unable to guarantee the respect and exercise of the right to life. On the other hand, the crisis of migrant children and adolescents unaccompanied in 2014 on the Mexico-US border, where the infants and children of Central America were not allowed to exercise the right to asylum-refuge. To this we must add the crimes and violence directed at Central Americans that has become physical aggressions and mutilations, violating the right to physical integrity.

Forced Displaced and Expulsion Contexts

The migration of Central Americans in transit through Mexico is distinguished, both by its volume of thousands of people, and by its forced nature, as these people leave their places of origin not by free choice, but for various reasons beyond their will and control (REDODEM, 2016 ; Castillo, 2016).

The causes can be economic, environmental and security in contexts of violence. In the case of the economic causes of migration, we find its root in processes of unemployment, low wages and rising prices of the basic basket (REDODEM, 2016). As regards adverse environmental conditions that lead to migration, there are landslides, landslides, droughts, floods due to hurricanes (REDODEM, 2016). And as for migration derived from generalized contexts of violence, we see cases of threats and aggressions of various groups of organized crime-gangs, drug cartels, post-war situation, high crime rates, etc.- (REDODEM, 2016).

But, regardless of the specific cause of the migrant to leave his home, any scenario of expulsion of a migrant from his home is related to the absence of basic social and human rights. The lack of conditions of socioeconomic development is one of the strong and constant triggers of migration. In the case of the northern triangle of Central America, those who migrate are those who from before had conditions of vulnerability and exclusion. To this is added a chain of different violence, both from their places of origin in Central America, as well as in Mexico and the US.

In this sense, there is a complex dilemma between forced migration, violence and absence of rights that has its peculiarities in each migratory stage -in the origin in the Central American countries, in the transit in Mexico and in the destination in the EU- (Castillo, 2016 ). (1) In their countries of origin what stands out most are structural deficiencies of basic rights to employment, to health, to social security, to physical integrity in the face of contexts of violence or natural disasters. (2) In its transit through Mexico what stands out most is the breach of human rights to shelter, assistance, physical integrity and life. (3) And for those counted migrants who manage to reach the US as a destination, they are clearly exposed to labor exploitation and social exclusion ; What is in doubt is their right to a fair wage, social security and non-discrimination and exclusion.

Violence, migrant criminalization and border policies

The range of crimes that migrants may suffer is extensive. It includes everything from theft, extortion and injuries - which are the most frequent crimes - to kidnapping, abuse of authority, threats, intimidation, sexual abuse, sexual violations, human trafficking, homicide (REDODEM, 2016 ; MSF, 2017 ). Although those who suffer most from physical aggressions and crimes in their migration journey through Mexico are young men -because they are the largest group among Central Americans-, it is women and children who are most vulnerable to violence.

In fact, the grievances and crimes against these most vulnerable groups have other intensities and characteristics -such as human trafficking, sexual abuse, etc.-. According to the registry of diverse organizations, the majority of the registered crimes happen in the south of the country in the beginnings of the migratory trajectory of the Central Americans by Mexico. And the perpetrators of crimes and violence towards migrants are mainly organized crime groups - such as gangs -, certain authorities of the Mexican government and private individuals (REDODEM, 2016).

In addition, this occurs in the complicated context of the Mexican State’s approach to Central American migration in transit. Under the influence and coercion of the US, the Mexican government has opted for a position of national security, closure and securitization of the southern border and criminalization of Central Americans in irregular migration. The Mexican State sees Central Americans more as "transgressors of the law" than as forced migrants in need of refuge. There are no de facto measures towards a perspective of personal security and humanitarian assistance that recognizes the complicated situation of violence and risk in which these thousands of forced migrants find themselves.

To a large extent, the production of violence towards these groups is based on the absence of the exercise of the law and the chronic presence of impunity ; this enables and stimulates the action and operation of organized crime (Castillo, 2016). The conclusion derived from a scenario like this is that the State failed, not only because it does not guarantee the safety of migrants and the control of criminal groups, but also because part of its organs and institutions are colluded and also participate as aggressors and performers of the crime.


For the realization of this text, the following references were consulted :

° UNHCR (2016). Global trends. Forced displacement in 2015. Forced to flee. Spain : UNHCR.

° UNHCR (2017). Mexico Fact Sheet. Mexico : UNHCR.

º Castillo, Guillermo (2016). "Central American migrants, excluded among the marginalized". In Bilaterals, September 17. Available at :

° CONAPO (2015). Yearbook of migration and remittances Mexico 2016. Mexico : CONAPO, SEGOB, BBVA Foundation.

° CONAPO (2017). Migration and remittances yearbook Mexico 2017. Mexico : CONAPO, SEGOB, BBVA Foundation.

º Martínez, Fabiola (2015). "Record number of migrants detained in Mexico ; almost 200 thousand at the end of 2015. " In La Jornada, December 27, 2015.

Doctors Without Borders (2017). Forced to flee the northern triangle of Central America : a forgotten humanitarian crisis. Mexico : Doctors Without Borders.

Missing Migrant Project (2017). Migrant Fatalities Worldwide. New York : Missing Migrant Project. Available at :

° Documentation Network of Migrant Defender Organizations (2016). Migration in transit through Mexico : faces of an international humanitarian crisis. Mexico : Documentation Network of Migrant Defender Organizations.

 source: Alainet