Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

Global Overview 2011: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Mexico

Publisher Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC)
Publication Date 19 April 2012
Cite as Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC), Global Overview 2011: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Mexico, 19 April 2012, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Quick facts
Number of IDPsAbout 160,000
Percentage of total populationAbout 0.1%
Start of current displacement situation1994
Peak number of IDPs (Year)160,000 (2011)
New displacementAt least 26,500
Causes of displacementGeneralised violence, human rights violations
Human development index57

In 2011, there were several ongoing situations of internal displacement in Mexico. Possibly the largest but least-acknowledged cause of displacement was violence by drug cartels, which increased after the government sought to quash the cartels by military means from 2007. This violence has displaced tens of thousands of people, mostly in the states of Chihuahua, Tamaulipas and Nuevo León on the northern border with the USA, and also in Durango, Guerrero, Sinaloa and Michoacán.

The longest-running situation of displacement was caused in the 1990s by the uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional or EZLN) in Chiapas, and the group's subsequent confrontations with government forces.

Finally, violence between and within indigenous communities in the Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca, based often on religious affiliation, has also caused displacement.

In 2011 there were around 160,000 IDPs in the country, including some 140,000 people displaced by drug-cartel violence since 2007. Officials in Chiapas estimated that 20,000 people displaced during the Zapatista uprising were still living in displacement. The scale of displacement due to religious and communal violence was unknown.

During the year, tens of thousands of people were newly displaced by drug-cartel violence: confrontations between cartels in Michoacán displaced some 2,000 people, and the rest fled within a continuing flow of smaller displacements. Ciudad Juárez in Chihuahua was one of the places most affected by this gradual displacement: the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez (Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez) estimated that 24,500 people were newly displaced from the city in 2011, adding to some 115,000 already displaced from there since 2007.

There are no IDP camps in Mexico, but indigenous IDPs in Chiapas live together in tightly knit communities and receive some support from the state government and international agencies. Because many have lost access to their land and their livelihoods, they have reportedly become poorer as a result of their displacement.

People fleeing threats to their physical security by drug cartels have not necessarily found the safety they sought, and have continued in some cases to face criminal violence. In 2011, people who fled from Valle de Juárez to the south-eastern part of Ciudad Juárez continued to face high levels of armed violence. Small business owners fleeing to the state of Veracruz from Chihuahua and Michoacán were also attacked by cartels there.

Most of the IDPs displaced during the Zapatista uprising have not achieved a durable solution. They have neither received their land back nor have they been compensated for their loss, even though most were members of indigenous groups with an acknowledged special attachment to their land. According to recent assessments by UNDP, these IDPs now rely on low-paying jobs in the informal market in towns. Not much is known about the situation of people displaced by religious and communal tensions as these issues are dealt with within the communities.

IDPs have struggled to protect their houses, land and other property left behind. Homes abandoned by IDPs, particularly in Chihuahua, have been destroyed or vandalised by cartels and local gangs. Beyond general property laws, there are no specific mechanisms to ensure physical or legal protection of this property. Some people have reportedly lost their personal documentation as a result of their sudden displacement, threatening their access to social benefits provided by local authorities.

The government has yet to acknowledge the displacement related to drug-cartel violence. In 2011, there were no mechanisms to monitor displacement, to protect IDPs, to support their efforts to find a durable solution, or to provide assistance in the interim. The government has not sought the support of international agencies such as UNHCR to help establish a response in line with international standards.

In Chiapas, the government's response to internal displacement has remained insufficient. In October 2011, however, the state government presented a bill on internal displacement to the state's congress. The bill, drafted with the support of various UN agencies and civil society in Chiapas, was expected to be adopted by early 2012. As the first law on internal displacement in the country, it is intended to implement the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement in the state.

Development agencies have provided support to IDPs: in Chiapas, for example, UNDP has promoted the integration of indigenous IDPs in their places of displacement, through livelihoods projects within its wider development strategy for indigenous people.

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