A man's name written in marker on the white cross that adorns a mass grave A man's name written on the white cross that adorns a mass grave. Even when victims are identified, exhuming the body for separate burial can be prohibitively expensive for families.

In 11 years, 10,000 unidentified bodies buried in mass graves in Baja California

The practice has been illegal since 2015 but continues regardless

More than 10,000 unidentified bodies have been buried in mass graves in Baja California since 2010, official data shows.

Between January 2010 and June of this year, 10,122 unidentified corpses were interred in 13 cemeteries, according to the state government.

More than 1,000 of the mass graves are located in cemetery No. 13 in Tijuana, Baja California’s largest city and Mexico’s most violent. Each is marked with a white, wooden cross.

Authorities have continued to bury unidentified bodies in such graves in recent years despite the practice being outlawed in 2015, the newspaper Milenio reported.

Angélica Ramírez, a member of a collective of family members of missing people, told Milenio that up to 20 bodies are buried in a single grave.

Many of the graves haven’t been completely filled in, meaning that plastic bags containing body parts are visible. Medical refuse such as latex gloves and face masks used by forensic investigators often end up in the graves with the nameless victims of violence.

“For us, this is shocking,” said Ramírez, adding that it is unfortunate that Baja California authorities don’t respect laws designed to protect unidentified victims.

If a body buried in a mass grave is later identified, the victim’s family can hire a gravedigger to exhume the remains. However, the cost – as high as 80,000 pesos (about US $3,900) – is prohibitive for many. The Baja California government doesn’t make any contribution to the cost.

Ramírez said families who can’t afford to pay exhumation costs often approach collectives such as Una Nación Buscándote (One Nation Looking for you) for help.

She said that collective members on one occasion exhumed seven bodies, including the son of a woman who approached the collective.

Many bodies have been buried in mass graves shortly after they were located and before they were identified because there wasn’t enough space to store them in government morgues. In 2019, one morgue in Tijuana was compared to an extermination camp in 1940s Nazi Germany after a photograph that circulated on the messaging service WhatsApp showed a pile of naked and bloody dead bodies on the floor.

In December 2017, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (Profepa) threatened to shut down the same morgue after it was discovered that it was storing blood, body fluids and other medical waste in its parking lot.

With reports from Milenio

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