The disappeared

26,000 people who can’t be found 

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26,000 people in Mexico have been reported missing since 2007 and have not yet been found, according to official statistics from the national registry for missing persons. The true total is believed to be higher. Among them are the 43 students from Iguala, Guerrero - Mexico’s least peaceful state- who disappeared in September 2014; five young people who went missing in Tierra Blanca, Veracruz in January this year, last seen with police; three Americans who disappeared in Tamaulipas in late 2014; and two Australians who were later found dead in Sinaloa in late 2015.

Of those registered as missing, the majority are male, often working class men with families. Roughly 90% are Mexicans and 10% are foreigners, likely migrants and some tourists. Given the high number of mass graves found within the country, many of these disappearances are thought to result in deaths.

Those who disappear are believed to have been taken by organized crime groups or government actors, and are often never found, either because they have been illegally imprisoned, killed or both.

Counting the missing

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Kidnapping and disappearances have high rates of underreporting in Mexico, and the exact the number of people who have disappeared remains unknown. New research from the Institute for Economics and Peace estimates that between 4,100 to 4,600 people have gone missing every year since 2007. However, these estimates are conservative.

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Sometimes, family members may not report someone missing out of the fear of reprisal or persecution from the perpetrator, the authorities or the community around them. Or, authorities may not record disappearances out of similar fears for safety.  On top of this, disappearances may be classified under other crimes, such as kidnapping, preventing the true number being reflected in data.

Government involvement

Impunity and corruption in Mexico are severe and NGOs have repeatedly documented the involvement of government officials in disappearances in Mexico.

Over 2,000 cases of disappearances in Mexico are believed to involve state authorities, according to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH). If this estimate is accurate, enforced disappearances – those involving people or groups acting on behalf of the state - represent nine percent of the total number of people currently registered missing.

It is difficult confirm this estimate as, by nature, enforced disappearances are associated with a lack of transparency. In some cases, government agencies in Mexico have investigated other agencies and tried to hold government representatives accountable for involvement in cases of disappearances, with Mexico’s navy, local police and federal police implicated in recent cases. There have been recent resignations and arrests of officials and in some cases officials who were investigating cases have fled the country for their safety.

Are disappearances in Mexico increasing?

Unfortunately, the data that is available on disappearances in Mexico is inconclusive and does not clearly indicate whether the rate of disappearance has risen.

The Institute for Economics and Peace estimates a slight increase, between one and six percent. However, this may be due to an increase in reporting, rather than an increase in disappearances. Or it may be due to both.

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