Bloody clashes have left hundreds of Mexican security personnel, gang members, and civilians dead or wounded in the past few weeks.
And recent reports show that even people just transiting the country cannot avoid the violence.
Hundreds of Central American migrants travelling north through Mexico this year have been attacked, kidnapped, or killed by criminal organisations and, allegedly, by state authorities.
Last week, at least 20 men with pistols, shotguns, and machetes attacked a group of about 100 migrants travelling toward the US border on a freight train near the Las Choapas municipality in the southeastern state of Veracruz, according to Mexican newspaper Excelsior.
The men demanded $US100 from each migrant, an amount none of them could produce, Excelsior reported. According to Amnesty International, only 44 of the migrants were able to escape the subsequent assault.
The current whereabouts the other victims are unknown.
In another incident on June 2, men reportedly dressed in military uniforms attacked a group of between 110 and 120 migrants in Sonora, a northern border state wracked by violence.
According to the victims, the men appeared after one of the five vehicles the migrants were travelling in broke down. The armed men began firing “indiscriminately” at the group, which included women and children. Only 13 of the migrants were able to escape into the desert.
Two days later, Mexican authorities reported finding three bodies and two burned vehicles at the site. The rest of the victims remain unaccounted for, though Amnesty has voiced concern that they were abducted by criminal groups.
Mexican officials have drawn criticism from Amnesty and other groups for their failure to provide information about any ongoing investigations, the migratory status of the survivors, or the missing migrants, among them women and children.
Ironically, many of these migrants are leaving countries in Central America where poverty and corruption are rampant and where violence has skyrocketed to unprecedented levels: El Salvador recorded 26 murders per day through mid-June this year alone, while Honduras closed 2014 with the highest homicide rate in the hemisphere.
“When you live in Honduras, you quickly learn that anywhere and anything is better,” a 17-year-old migrant told US journalists last summer, “but then you get to Mexico and you understand that hell extends beyond Honduras.”
If any of the roughly 220 migrants involved in those two attacks were kidnapped, they would join a significant number of others travelling in Mexico who have suffered similar fates.
In mid-May, according to Prensa Latina, 57 migrants from Central America and Mexico who had been kidnapped by organised crime groups were freed by Mexican authorities in the northeastern border state of Tamaulipas.
Nearly half of those freed were from Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador, reported TeleSur.
Many of the migrants rescued in this incident, a number of them women and children, were also from those Central American countries.
According to TeleSur, Mexico’s national immigration institute has found that kidnapping of migrants in Mexico increased by 800% between 2012 and 2014. In the first 11 months of 2014, 130 US citizens were kidnapped and 85 were killed in Mexico, according to the US Embassy.
A year ago, the sheer number of migrants, including unaccompanied minors, pouring into the southern US raised alarm among authorities and the public. Through joint US-Mexican efforts that tide has eased. Mexico’s Southern Border Program, approaching its first anniversary, has helped the Latin American country surpass the US in the number of Central American migrants detained.
But that flow has merely been diverted, not stopped. According to data gathered by the Washington Office on Latin America, between October 2013 and April 2014, 162,751 “other than Mexican” citizens, mostly Central Americans, were captured in the US, while 49,893 were apprehended in Mexico.
Between October 2014 and April 2015, just 70,448 “other than Mexican” citizens were caught in the US — but the number caught in Mexico ballooned to 92,889.
These numbers “show that the so-called ‘surge’ [of migrants] of 2014 hasn’t really ended. Enormous numbers of Central Americans are still fleeing, but most of them are now getting caught in Mexico instead of the United States,” said Adam Isacson, a senior associate at WOLA, in a release.
The increase in apprehensions and deportations by Mexican authorities has been attributed to pressure from the US government, which has also provided weaponry (about $US3.5 billion worth since Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto entered office in late 2012) to assist the effort.
But experts have raised alarm at the trend.
“We are asking Mexico to detain and deport migrants for us, and Mexico has clearly done that,” Maureen Meyer, WOLA’s senior associate for Mexico and Migrant Rights, also said in the release. “But in the process tens of thousands of vulnerable children and families are getting sent back into harm’s way without getting the chance to seek protection or refugee status,” she added.
The inability of many to seek refugee protection may be due to shortcomings in Mexico’s bureaucracy. In 2014, according to a report from AnimalPolitico, the Mexican Commission for Refugee (COMAR) support saw a 67% increase in refugee requests — to “more than 2,000” applications — compared to the previous year.
Often even those with the means to leave Central America and the fortune to survive the journey to the US do not emerge unscathed.
Many of the hundreds of thousands of migrants who travel on La Bestia — or the Beast, a nickname for freight trains that crisscross Mexico — have been severely injured by their mode of transport.
Benito Murillo, a Honduran man who first left Honduras bound for Washington, DC, looking for work, fell from the train during his journey, losing an arm and a leg.
Murillo has travelled throughout the US with others who have suffered similarly — they call themselves the Caravan of the Mutilated — to raise awareness of the plight of immigrants and bring pressure on US officials to act on immigration reforms and other measures to assist Central American countries.
Their efforts are motivated in part by the knowledge that many will come after them and face the same dangers.
“Immigration is never going to stop,” said Murillo.
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