Making the Invisible Visible: Hidden Signs of Violence

SAN SALVADOR– Human rights organization Cristosal released its 2017 Annual Report on Forced Displacement in El Salvador on Thursday, April 26 to draw attention to the phenomenon and its victims, who are overlooked in El Salvador’s public policy and national dialogue. The same factors that have caused a surge in Salvadoran requests for U.S. asylum in recent years have also displaced hundreds of thousands of people inside the country. As such, strengthening protection systems inside the country can reduce forced migration to the United States.

In an unprecedented move, El Salvador’s Minister of Justice and Public Security, Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde, participated in a panel discussion on the subject at the report’s official release. Also featured on the panel were Cristosal Chief Program Officer Celia Medrano and representatives from the International Organization for Migration and the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office. In the discussion, Landaverde acknowledged violence as a factor driving displacement. He also recognized that some of that violence has been caused by the National Civil Police and the Armed Forces of El Salvador. These acknowledgements demonstrate a significant departure from the government’s previous position, which was to question the existence and scale of forced displacement.

The report’s release also marks a substantial shift in the national conversation about forced displacement. While victims forcibly displaced by violence have traditionally been ignored or treated with suspicion, this report highlights the harsh realities they face. Its findings were featured over 30 times in national newspapers and radio and TV programs.

Major findings from the report, which combines data collected from the 701 individuals registered by Cristosal and the Quetzalcóatl Foundation in 2017, include:

Displacement disproportionately affects children and young adults: the largest cohort of displaced victims was girls aged 0-17.
Displacement disrupts school and work: 75.6% of the victims who were in school had to abandon their studies; over 70% of the victims who were working had to give up their jobs.
The report also identifies the causes of forced displacement. The top five reasons people left their homes were threats, murder, attempted murder, extortion, and injuries. These acts of violence were mostly perpetrated by gangs, but a worrying 15% of families fled, at least in part, because of violence from El Salvador’s National Civil Police or Armed Forces. More than half (58%) of the victims did not report their cases to the authorities, many because they were afraid doing so would make them targets of further violence.

Although the cases reflected in the study do not represent a national sample or depict the overall magnitude of forced displacement in El Salvador, they form an important starting point for drawing trends and building solutions.

“The public response to this study affirms that forced displacement by violence is a national reality,” says Noah Bullock, Cristosal Executive Director. “The next step is for the Salvadoran state to lead civil society and the international donor community to build a protection response so that tens of thousands of Salvadorans are not forced to flee the country every year.”