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Feature 051616 InSight Crime

Monday, May 16, 2016

Criminal Violence has Displaced Millions in Latin America

Mike LaSusa (InSight Crime)

A newly released report highlights the central role crime plays in driving displacement and migration in Latin America, estimating that violence linked to criminal groups has contributed to the dislocation of millions of people across the region in recent years.

The “Global Report on Internal Displacement,” published this month by Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), estimates that Colombia alone saw more than 224,000 citizens newly displaced last year as a result of conflict and violence. According to the report, the long running, crime-fueled armed conflict in Colombia has displaced more than 6.3 million people since 1996.

However, the authors also note that many Colombians who previously fled their homes have now resettled, and may no longer technically qualify as displaced people. The true number of Colombians affected by conflict-related displacement, the report says, “is difficult if not impossible to gauge.”

The IDMC also estimates that violence associated with criminal organizations has contributed to the displacement of at least a million people in Mexico and Central America’s “Northern Triangle,” made up by El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. That figure represents an increase from the organization’s 2014 estimate, which assessed that approximately 848,000 people in that region were displaced by criminal activity.

Although Mexico has by far the largest population of these four countries, the IDMC estimates that the nation with the smallest total population, El Salvador, has the largest number of people displaced by conflict and violence -- 289,000 compared to Mexico’s 287,000. The second most-populous country of the four, Guatemala, has approximately 251,000 internally displaced citizens, while Honduras has an estimated 174,000.

The report repeatedly emphasizes that obtaining accurate data on internally displaced populations poses many challenges, and notes that the figures cited above should be viewed with caution.

The case of Mexico provides a useful example: the country’s National Human Rights Commission put out its own report (pdf) on internal displacement on the same day as the IDMC report, estimating that there are approximately 40,000 displaced people in the country. However, other recent estimates suggest that nearly 2 million Mexicans have been displaced by criminal violence since 2006.

InSight Crime Analysis

Despite the difficulty of obtaining exact statistics on crime-related displacement, these reports underscore the key role that criminal violence plays in driving citizens of Latin American countries to leave their homes.

See also: Coverage of Displacement

As InSight Crime has previously reported, a growing body of evidence suggests a strong correlation between crime victimization and citizens’ intention to migrate. According to a 2012 survey cited by the IDMC, 13.5 percent of Northern Triangle residents -- the equivalent of about 4 million people -- reported that they had contemplated moving due to a fear of criminal violence. In some cases, criminal groups have even attempted to evict entire neighborhoods all at once.

The mounting evidence pointing to a correlation between crime and displacement has important implications for public policy. Many of the countries most affected by crime-related internal displacement continue to focus resources on strengthening security measures to combat criminal groups. However, such approaches often fail to adequately address the concerns and challenges faced by victims of criminal activity.

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This commentary, "Criminal Violence has Displaced Millions in Latin America: Report," was first published in InSight Crime, on May 12, 2016 and reposted per a Creative Commons authorization.  InSight Crime's objective is to increase the level of research, analysis and investigation on organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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