LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans have been forced to flee their homes by drug-trafficking groups in a "hidden humanitarian crisis" the authorities have not publicly acknowledged, a U.S.-based advocacy group said on Wednesday.
Refugees International said entire rural communities had been run off their ranches by organised criminal gangs wanting to seize their land.
Many families have experienced extortion, kidnapping and killings, often fleeing to cities where they are at risk of further violence stemming from the military's war against organised crime.
"Despite the fact that Mexico has multiple mechanisms in place to assist IDPs (internally displaced persons) in specific circumstances, the federal government has not demonstrated willingness to fully admit to and robustly support those displaced by organised criminal groups," RI said in its report.
Mexican officials were not immediately available for comment.
Mexico has been racked by drug-related violence in recent years. More than 85,000 people have died in drug-related killings since the end of 2006, with much of the violence near key smuggling routes in western and northern regions.
In February, the government scored a political victory when Mexico's most wanted man, drug cartel kingpin Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, was captured with help from U.S. agencies.
RI, which carried out research in Mexico in May and June, said the internal displacement was largely unreported because many of those moving to escape violence were in small groups.
Another reason was the mass migration within and through Mexico as Central Americans try to make their way to the United States.
"It may seem difficult to distinguish between those moving for work or family reunification and ... individuals and families who are fleeing the consequences of organised crime," RI noted.
Some of the most pressing concerns for Mexicans displaced by violence due to organised crime were a lack of identity papers, shelter, healthcare and jobs, RI said.
Identity papers are especially important because without them children cannot register and go to school, and adults cannot work legally.
Children without documents are at increased risk of being recruited by drug trafficking gangs because there are no identifiable fingerprints left at crime scenes, RI quoted a former state attorney general for Sinaloa as saying.