On Journey Northward, Migrants Face Kidnapping, Murder

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Coinciding with the request of the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights last week for the Mexican government to investigate the mysterious disappearance of at least 40 Central American migrants, a Mexican security official identified the top 25 most dangerous places for migrants. InSight Crime takes a closer look at the dynamics of migration in the region, which are closely linked to drug trafficking, human trafficking, and other aspects of organized crime.

According to a statement released by the office of the UN High Commissioner, the 40 migrants, most of whom were from El Salvador and Guatemala, were abducted by gunmen on December 16th while riding a freight train in southern state of Oaxaca. The statement hints at some level of police involvement in the matter, alleging that the freight train was stopped first “by police and migration officials,” who arrested 92 of the 250 migrants aboard.

Following the arrests, about 150 migrants got back on the train, at which point its driver demanded money from the migrants. Because the amount of money collected was insignificant, the driver was not satisfied and warned them there would be “more problems ahead.” The Commissioner alleges that a half-hour later, unknown armed criminal elements boarded the train, assaulting and robbing some of the migrants and eventually kidnapping 40 of them, including at least ten women and one child.

Since their disappearance, the Associated Press reported that the kidnappers of the group contacted a family in the United States, demanding ransom.  However, they unknowingly called relatives of a migrant who had managed to escape after the Dec. 16 assaults.  The whereabouts of the rest of the captives remain unknown, and details of the case remain murky due to the unwillingness of migrants to come forward and risk deportation.

These types of kidnappings are not uncommon in Mexico.  The headline-grabbing discovery of a mass grave last fall in which 72 migrants were enterred was actually the third such discovery of 2010. Last May, 55 bodies were found in an abandoned mine south of Mexico City, and in July, 51 dead migrants were discovered outside Monterrey. According to the country’s National Human Rights Commission, nearly 10,000 migrants are kidnapped a year by gangs.

In order to get through Mexico safely and cross the U.S. border, migrants from all over the region entrust their lives to “coyotes,” human smugglers who often have ties to drug cartels.  Instead of assisting the migrants, these criminals frequently undertake mass kidnappings, and have been known to kill one or two from each group to scare the rest into asking relatives to meet ransom demands.

Reports of the most recent round of disappearances surfaced just as a Mexican security official identified a number of “hot spots” throughout the country last week, where migrants from Central and South America are frequently victimized by criminal groups on their journey northward to the United States.

According to Juan Miguel Alcantara Soria, the head of Mexico’s National Public Security System, the worst danger for Central American migrants lies along a system of rail lines that branch out of Lecheria, a station on the outskirts of Mexico City which serves as a kind of geographical “halfway point” for migrants. Alcantra told Mexican daily La Cronica de Hoy that his office had located 25 locations in Tabasco, Chiapas, Oaxaca, Veracruz and Mexico State where Central and South American migrants are victims of extortion and kidnappings by criminal groups.

In the map below, InSight Crime takes a closer look at these dangerous areas, where migrants are often victims of extortion and kidnappings by criminal groups. The lines represent the four major railways on which undocumented immigrants are most frequently targeted, all of which stop in the town of Lecheria, just outside of Mexico City. Routes leading to Lecheria are in red, and lines leaving the town are in blue. The points marked on the rail lines are locations identified by Alcantara as high-risk zones for migrants. Also marked are the site of the kidnapping and the location of the mass grave in Tamaulipas.


View InSight Map: The Dangerous Journey North for Migrants in a larger map

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