Civil Society, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees

MEXICO: Kidnapped Migrant Women – Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Nov 14 2008 (IPS) - “I don’t see any investigation, only grief and despair,” said Heyman Vázquez, a Catholic priest who runs a shelter for migrants on the border between the southern Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, referring to the recent kidnappings of 20 Central American women by groups of armed men.

“They promised to investigate, but no one has even come to make enquiries,” Vázquez told IPS from Arriaga, where the women, most of them under 30, boarded a freight train heading north. A short distance from there they were kidnapped, in two separate incidents on Nov. 5 and 11.

Every day, dozens of Central American migrants en route to the United States arrive at Arriaga, some 500 kilometres from the border between Mexico and Guatemala, after having walked for up to 15 days.

Until mid-2007 they came by train, but now they travel on foot or by bus, because the railway lines south of Arriaga are damaged and no trains are running.

On the night of Nov. 5, at a place called Las Anonas, a group of armed men in a 4 x 4 all terrain vehicle forced the freight train to stop and took away 12 Central American women. They have not been seen or heard from since.

Six days later at a nearby spot, a similar armed group burst into a small migration post and took away another eight women, according to eye witnesses.

“According to what I’ve been told, the kidnappers appear to belong to drug trafficking groups, which is new. There have always been kidnappings of migrants around here, but those responsible were criminals of another kind, less organised,” said Vázquez, who runs the Hogar de la Misericordia (Home of Mercy) shelter for migrants.

The latest kidnappings were reported to the authorities by migrants and by Alejandro Solalinde, another Catholic priest who coordinates the Pastoral de la Movilidad Humana and runs a shelter in the town of Ixtepec, in Oaxaca, about 200 kilometres northwest of Arriaga.

The Attorney General’s Office took charge of the investigations, but so far no one has been arrested, and the women, who are from El Salvador and Guatemala, are still missing.

Kidnappings in the south of Mexico are nothing new, but the latest cases seem to follow a different pattern, Paulo Martínez, spokesman for the non-governmental organisation Sin Fronteras (Without Borders), a human rights watchdog for immigrants arriving in this country, told IPS.

According to Martínez, women kidnapped in the south have reported being tortured and raped. Their captors usually demand ransom from relatives of the victims living in the United States.

In an interview with IPS in January 2007, Solalinde said that criminal groups linked to the police and the authorities regularly kidnapped migrants from Central America, and then demanded ransoms of between 2,000 and 10,000 dollars a head.

“Those who have just kidnapped these women identified themselves as belonging to the Zetas,” a paramilitary group working for drug traffickers, Vázquez said.

Mexico, a traditional transit country for migrants from South America, Central America and, to a lesser extent, Asia and the Middle East, all of them bound for the United States, is a tough hurdle for migrants, who suffer every kind of abuse, according to human rights groups.

“Those who reach Arriaga come on foot or by bus, and are frequently attacked and robbed, but their suffering does not end there. They also face kidnappings, like this group of women, of whom nothing has been heard,” said Father Vázquez.

Sin Fronteras spokesman Martínez called on the government of Mexican President Felipe Calderón to clear up the latest kidnappings as soon as possible. His organisation fears for the women’s lives.

The state National Commission on Human Rights estimated that networks dealing in human trafficking compete for a market of 500,000 Latin American migrants a year. Smuggling them into Mexico and then into the United States is a multi-million dollar business, as each immigrant pays between 4,000 and 15,000 dollars for the journey, the Commission said.

Between January and September 2008 the Mexican authorities detained 28,318 undocumented migrants from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, according to official statistics.

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