Valeria Uribe
Director General
Pan American Development Foundation (PADF)
Expert Contributor

On the Run at Home: Internally Displaced Persons in Mexico

By Valeria Uribe | Tue, 06/15/2021 - 13:00

The migration crisis and people’s desperate search for better living conditions across borders is part of every news cycle. Less known is the plight of those moving within a country, fleeing violence, armed conflict, disasters, and human rights violations. These internally displaced people, or IDPs, are on the run at home and are often at the margins of established legal frameworks and protections.

In Mexico, internal displacement has been a growing concern for decades, yet it has not been systematically documented. Anecdotal evidence and reports from civil society show that in 2004, mass internal displacement took place in Chiapas as a result of the Zapatista uprising. Hard-line policies to combat drug trafficking and trade implemented by President Felipe Calderon (2006-2012) only escalated the violence in Mexico, leading to increasing numbers of IDPs. The presence of armed groups, including those involved in the drug trade, has led to an uptick in violence, which in turn has contributed to more people leaving their homes in search of peace and security.

However, the true scale of the internal displacement phenomenon in Mexico is widely underreported. The National Demographic Dynamics Survey (ENADID) reported for the first time in 2018 that five states (State of Mexico, Guerrero, Tamaulipas, Michoacan, and Chiapas) received the largest number of new residents. Civil efforts, such as those carried out by the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH), place the number of IDPs in Mexico from 2005 through 2019, anywhere between 185,000 and more than 8 million people. This wide range points to the challenges of implementing quantitative and qualitative analysis and the clear vacuum of leadership. In 2019, the government of Mexico legally recognized internal displacement as a phenomenon occurring within its borders and acknowledged the need to address this challenge with updates to its institutional frameworks. In the future, this needs to be coupled with targeted actions and investments to address the needs of IDPs.

How does internal displacement impact Mexican society?

After leaving their homes under extreme circumstances, IDPs face an uphill battle in re-establishing their lives in a new location. Although those who move within the same country share a language and, to a certain extent, cultural values, the trauma of having to leave their communities of origin because of threats or violence makes integration into a new host community incredibly challenging.

Housing: IDPs need to find housing in new host communities, often with costs that may be much greater than in their home communities. Some face the challenge of having to invest savings or a significant portion of their income on housing, at the expense of food and other basic needs. Others live in precarious conditions in unsafe areas or with several family members in a single room. Support must be provided for IDPs to overcome this initial hurdle and effectively re-establish themselves in a new home and community.

Employment: The job markets in communities of origin and destination may have different requirements and IDPs can face challenges securing formal employment in host communities. As a result, these newcomers may have lower incomes and be vulnerable to working in the informal sector, with irregular wages and no social security benefits. Over time, this threatens the economic and social stability of IDPs and their families. Private sector, civil society and government efforts need to focus on connecting IDPs to economic opportunities and strengthening their skills so they can find gainful employment.

Education: Youth on the move are often withdrawn from school in the middle of the school year and therefore fall behind their peers as the family settles in a new location. Schools where these children are re-enrolled are often ill-prepared to receive IDP students, who may need extra attention to adapt to a new environment, special teaching methodologies, and support in establishing connections with their peers after experiencing trauma. This puts children and adolescents at a high risk of dropping out of school. Government efforts need to consider that these students need additional support, and academic institutions must adapt to appropriately accommodate IDPs.

How should we respond?

The first step to responding to internal displacement lies with ensuring that IDPs are recognized as such. Mexico’s legal framework must recognize this group of people and put in place mechanisms that assign resources to address their unique challenges. These individuals and families need to receive integrated services that respect their human rights and connect them to the necessary care, including humanitarian assistance, psychosocial support, economic opportunities, and the targeted help they need to effectively exercise their rights and fully integrate into their new communities.

The private sector can also play a pivotal role in supporting IDPs and migrants and strengthening Mexico’s diverse and complex social fabric. By backing their integration into new host communities with targeted interventions, donors can contribute to a more stable society that is attractive for continued investment. Training, vocational programs, and employment opportunities for IDPs can make all the difference for this population to secure an economic foothold that allows them to contribute to their new communities. In turn, IDPs and the communities where they live can actively contribute to Mexico’s ongoing growth and development.

Photo by:   Valeria Uribe