CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico – Some 230,000 people have left Ciudad Juarez, a border city that has become Mexico’s murder capital, in the past three years as the death toll from a gang war topped 7,000, a non-governmental organization said in a new report.
About 124,000 people, or 53.9 percent of the total, have sought safe haven in El Paso, Texas, which is just across the border, the Ciudad Juarez Citizens Security and Coexistence Observatory said.
The rest have returned to their hometowns, mainly in Durango, Coahuila and Veracruz states, to get away from the drug-related violence.
“Action should be taken immediately” to keep the crime and violence from leading to a “loss of economic dynamism and, in turn, a continuing reproduction of violence and crime as a result of unemployment,” the report’s authors, Ramon Chavira and Wilebaldo Martinez, said.
The two Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez, or UACJ, professors used National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics, or INEGI, figures, as well as interviews with emigrants’ families, to come up with the population trend figures for the border city.
Ciudad Juarez is the scene of a war for control of smuggling routes between the Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels.
The border city, where more than 2,000 people have been murdered this year, has been plagued by drug-related violence for years.
More than 20,000 houses have been abandoned in the border city by people who feared they might become murder, extortion or kidnapping victims, Ciudad Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz said.
Journalists have also been leaving the border city in recent years due to threats.
Jorge Luis Aguirre, publisher of the online daily La Polaka, was granted political asylum on Monday, U.S. officials said.
Aguirre fled to the United States with his family on Nov. 13, 2008, just hours after El Diario de Juarez reporter Armando Rodriguez was murdered.
Rodriguez was murdered in front of his 9-year-old daughter outside his house.
Luis Carlos Santiago, a 21-year-old El Diario news photographer, was killed last week and his colleague, Carlos Sanchez, was wounded in an attack by suspected cartel hit men.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said in a statement Friday that it was “appalled” by the killing, adding that the “level of violence and mayhem is staggering in many parts of Mexico including Cuidad Juarez.”
El Paso’s Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, meanwhile, warned of a likely new wave of media members seeking asylum in the United States in the wake of the attack on the photographers.
“I think they want to silence the voices of the reporters, who are the ones on the front lines. As an organization, we are going to support these types of situations,” Eduardo Beckett, an immigration attorney at the center, said.
“We are receiving a huge number of calls. We’re really busy, but we are going to do everything possible to help deal with this. It’s an international crisis,” Beckett said.
The flow of people from Juarez to El Paso started in 2007, press reports said.
The death toll from the drug war in Ciudad Juarez reached 8,300 between December 2006 and July 2010. EFE