160,000 Mexicans Displaced in 2011, Most by Drug Violence: UN

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A new report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says 160,000 people were internally displaced in Mexico last year, most of them as a result of the drug war, an often-overlooked dimension of the country’s public security crisis.

The states that saw the highest rates of displacement were Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Durango, Sinaloa, Michoacan and Guerrero — all among the worst hit by drug violence. The report estimates that 24,500 people fled Ciudad Juarez alone.

The report criticizes the Mexican government’s response to the problem, noting that its military approach to organized crime does not include a strategy to deal with internal refugees.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees said in a press conference that the Mexican government had not recognised the existence of refugees displaced by the war on drugs, reports Frontera.

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Internal displacement is an impact of Mexico’s drug war that is often overlooked. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center said in a December 2011 report that refugees within the state of Chihuahua continued to face violence after uprooting, and that small business owners who fled to Veracruz from Chihuahua and Michoacan were still targeted by organized criminal groups there. The displaced have difficulty finding employment; in the central Mexican state of Queretaro, around 60 percent of job applications are reportedly made by refugees from the north.

In addition to internal displacement, Mexico’s high rates of violence have forced people to flee abroad, leading more and more to seek asylum in the US. From 2006 to 2008 the number of Mexicans seeking asylum in the US as a result of violence increased 50-fold. The vast majority are turned away. In fiscal year 2010, less than 50 of Mexico’s 3,231 asylum seekers were accepted, according to the US Department of Justice’s statistics.

Still, despite the large number of people affected, Mexico has a long way to go before its level of displacement is anything like that of Colombia. Comparisons are often made between the two countries’ struggles against drug trafficking. In the South American country, the internal conflict is thought to have displaced more than 10 percent of the population, compared to some 0.2 percent for Mexico.

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