Sunday, May 25, 2008

Migrant kidnappings by Mexican cops on the rise

Please note: this is a slightly out of sync posting from March of this year that I misposted to a different blog. I am returning it to the rightful place.

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Cases of corrupt Mexican police kidnapping undocumented Central American migrants for ransom as they travel overland to the United States are on the rise, a United Nations official said on Saturday.

Jorge Bustamante, the U.N.'s special investigator for migrant rights, said extorting ransoms from migrants could be more lucrative for unscrupulous police than working for drug smuggling gangs.

"They kidnap migrants, ask them for information, relatives' phone numbers; then they extort money from the families," Bustamante said, presenting the conclusions of a week-long study of how undocumented migrants are treated in Mexico.

Bustamante told a news conference both federal and local police were involved in kidnapping rackets on Mexico's northern and southern borders. "It's an abuse and it's increasing," he said.

Tens of thousands of poor Central Americans make the long trek north through Mexico each year on their way to cross the U.S. border illegally. Many are mistreated and forced to pay bribes by both criminal gangs and police.

Bustamante said he met a Salvadoran man in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula who said his wife was still missing after police recently abducted and held the couple.

"It's a big business that involves everyone from taxi drivers to police chiefs. It's a business whose profits rival those of drug trafficking," Bustamante said.

Bustamante, who was invited to carry out his study by the Mexican government, criticized Mexico for doing little to improve the lot of migrants on its territory while at the same time demanding better treatment from the United States of illegal Mexican migrants there.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Eric Walsh)

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