Poverty, political instability, corruption and gang violence force many to uproot their families and flee their homes in El Salvador. The number of asylum seekers fleeing their country has increased dramatically since the 1980s. Below are eight facts about why so many are fleeing El Salvador and what/who can aid in this humanitarian crisis.
8 Facts about Fleeing El Salvador
- El Salvador has one of the lowest economic growth rates in Central America. While rates of poverty have slowly been decreasing in recent years, the high rates of crime and violence create challenges for a growing economy. According to the World Bank, crime and violence make doing business expensive, have negative impacts on investment decisions and also hinder the creation of jobs.
- Coffee rust intensifies the threat of poverty. Hemileia vastatrix, also known as “coffee rust”, is a fungus that many Salvadoran coffee farmers fear. This fungus can greatly decrease the amount of mature (sellable) coffee beans in a harvest. With coffee representing 7.5 percent of El Salvador’s exports and sustaining 650,000 jobs, “coffee rust” greatly threatens income and stability of many families.
- The threat of climate change also aggravates the cycle of poverty. More than one-third of Salvadorans live in rural areas and depend on agriculture. However, environmental disasters such as floods, droughts and volcanoes combined with changes in climate threaten harvests and income. Within the next few decades, increasing temperatures pose the possibility of declining crop yields by up to 30 percent. Thus, this creates even more worry for Salvadorans whose lives depend on the quality of their harvests.
- Uprisings, wars and extreme gang violence contribute to political instability. In 1932, the Salvadoran government massacred approximately 30,000 peasants. From 1979 to 1992, the Civil War (and the Salvadoran army) left another 30,000 dead. Today, gangs contribute to high levels of extortion and hinder an already weak economy. High trends of violence and corruption contribute to reduced trust in government. Furthermore, the government does not have institutions strong enough and prepared to combat rampant gang violence.
- Many flee El Salvador due to direct threats of gang violence. In a country with a total population just over 6 million, it’s estimated that there are approximately 60,000 gang members in El Salvador. That’s one gang member out of every 100 people. Between 2014 and 2017 alone, violent gangs are responsible for the deaths of nearly 20,000 Salvadorans. In a country with one of the highest homicide rates in the world, it make sense that there have been waves of migrants fleeing El Salvador for decades.
- Gangs particularly render women and children vulnerable. El Salvador has one of the highest rates of violent deaths of women in the world. More than 25 percent of Salvadoran women report intimate partner violence. Additionally, criminal gangs routinely target girls and women and force them into relationships with gang members or force them into sexual slavery. Some women will try to stay in their homes with their children, not even leaving for school or work in an effort to be safe from the violence.
- Save the Children is active in El Salvador. This nonprofit organization supports families by providing means of income for families. In addition, the organization is improving food security and providing health education and care that can deter preventable deaths for mothers and children.
- For years, the US gave foreign assistance to El Salvador. Claudia Ivette Canjura de Centeno, the Salvadoran Ambassador to the US, recently said in an interview that US foreign assistance funds to El Salvador are distributed among programs promoting safety, youth empowerment and security. This is done through creating jobs and opportunities and developing spaces of recreation. However, President Trump threatens to suspend economic aid to El Salvador. This will have a huge impact on the progress El Salvador has experienced.
You can do something to make an impact. Call and email your Congressional representatives. Encourage them to oppose cuts to foreign assistance to Central America. People have been fleeing El Salvador with their families and will continue to do so until they no longer feel the threats of poverty, political instability, corruption and gang violence.
El Salvador has a deep history of violence and corruption that contribute to the present situation where many are fleeing their country. For many, the grueling process of migrating and trying to start a new life is too challenging to try. Despite the challenges of that process, it might provide safety, security and opportunities. This outweighs trying to feed one’s family under constant threats of violence and governmental instability. While organizations like Save the Children provides essential aid to Salvadoran communities, addressing deep, systemic issues is what is going to create sustainable security. Please call your representatives and urge them to oppose the suspension of foreign assistance to Central America.
– Keeley Griego