Mexico’s Drug War Forcing Thousands to Flee

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Washington, DC – While the mass movement of Central American children has recently seized the attention of policy-makers, a larger emergency just across the U.S. border has gone unnoticed. Mexico’s organized crime epidemic has forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, yet Mexican authorities have not publicly acknowledged this humanitarian crisis – much less assisted its victims. This is one finding of the latest report by Refugees International (RI), Mexico's Unseen Victims. RI calls on the Mexican government to launch a nationwide survey of people displaced by violence and undertake a comprehensive effort to meet their basic needs.

“We can no longer ignore the scale of this violence and its devastating effects on Mexican society,” said RI’s Senior Adviser on Human Rights, Sarnata Reynolds. “What’s happening there is a humanitarian crisis by any definition, and the Mexican government must respond accordingly.”

In the last eight years, the fight between the Mexican government and the country’s drug cartels has mutated into a conflict resembling civil war. The cartels’ campaigns of targeted assassinations, kidnappings, and extortion have been widely reported. Yet according to RI’s research, in many cases entire communities have been viciously uprooted by criminal organizations seeking to appropriate their land and resources, while others have been emptied out during fierce fighting between the cartels and the Mexican military. Officials who have been corrupted or coerced by organized crime groups may also have a hand in forced displacement.

RI met numerous Mexican internally displaced people (IDPs) who fled after violence broke out in their hometowns, or after losing their property and loved ones to organized crime. Many live as squatters or in overcrowded rentals with other displaced families. Finding employment or education is challenging for many – especially those who never had or lost their identity documents while fleeing. Yet IDPs told RI that they received hardly any assistance from the Mexican government, with some waiting as long as two years.

Mexico is not a poor country, and authorities there are capable of delivering aid quickly after disasters. The problem today is that the government has not shown a willingness to help people displaced by violence,” Ms. Reynolds said. “Mexico’s displaced need to be identified, counted, and assisted quickly. And the international community should be ready to reinforce the government’s efforts if asked.”


Refugees International is a non-profit organization that advocates for life-saving protection for displaced and stateless people worldwide and accepts no government or UN funding. For more information, visit

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