Globalisation, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees, North America, Population

Migration & Refugees

Protection for Salvadoran Migrants En Route to U.S.

Central American migrants wait in El Naranjo, Guatemala, for a guide to take them to Mexico. Credit: Wilfredo Díaz/IPS

SAN SALVADOR, May 17 2012 (IPS) - A law to protect Salvadoran migrants, who are frequently victims of attacks and abuses on their way to the United States, is nearing entry into force after having been approved over a year ago. All that remains is for a body made up of civil society organisations to be created to implement it.

Foreign Minister Hugo Martínez said he was pleased with the progress towards forming the National Council for the Protection and Development of Migrants and Their Families, to be made up of representatives of organisations of Salvadorans abroad, business and civil institutions within El Salvador, ministries and other government offices.

“We are moving at a good pace; we think that by the middle of the year, the Council will be up and running,” he said.

Parliament approved the Special Act for the Protection and Development of Salvadoran Migrants and Their Families in March 2011. It seeks to safeguard respect for the human rights of Salvadoran nationals while travelling and once they have arrived at their destination, and it also includes provisions for the protection of deportees.

But regulations for the act were only drawn up by the Foreign Ministry on Apr. 18, when the Council began to be established.

Article 1 of the act states that public policies are to be designed for protection and support of migrants and their families, in coordination with the state and civil society.

The act establishes a Migration and Development Programme aimed at creating productive initiatives for migrants’ relatives who remain in El Salvador, and for people deported from the United States, who amounted to some 19,000 people in 2011, about the same as in previous years according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“Wherever there are Salvadoran citizens, we want their human rights to be protected by the state,” lawmaker Karina Sosa of the left-wing governing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), who was on the legislative commission that steered the bill through parliament, told IPS.

The act provides for high-level coordination between Salvadoran authorities and their counterparts in Mexico – a transit territory for migrants – and the United States, the usual destination.

Once it is formed, the Council will have responsibility for designing and monitoring a comprehensive policy for protection of and assistance for migrants and their families.

“The idea is that the Council’s proposals should really carry weight,” said Gilma Pérez, an expert on migration issues at the Human Rights Institute of the José Simeón Cañas Central American University (IDHUCA).

“The diversity of the organisations and bodies that will make up the Council leads us to believe it will play an important role,” she said.

A novel component of the act is the creation of a special fund for repatriating the deceased and injured, which will provide funds to families who cannot afford to repatriate the remains of their relatives killed in transit or in the country of destination, or to bring back injured family members.

The 1980-1992 civil war and persistent widespread poverty have prompted constant emigration from El Salvador, especially in the 1980s, to the United States, where an estimated 2.7 million Salvadorans now live.

Every day, between 200 and 300 undocumented Central American migrants are estimated to set out for the United States, seeking a better future for themselves and their families. Travelling on their own or guided by human traffickers or “coyotes”, they are exposed along the way, in Guatemala and especially in Mexico, to robbery, kidnapping, abuse and even murder by Mexican police or criminals, often working in collusion.

NGOs working on migration issues have documented abuse of Salvadorans by Mexican border authorities, as well as disappearances and deaths at the hands of hired killers linked to drug trafficking cartels in Mexico.

Seventy-two undocumented immigrants were massacred in August 2010 by members of the Los Zetas drug cartel in the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Among those murdered were 14 Salvadorans, 21 Hondurans and 10 Guatemalans.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA) created a map of Salvadoran migration in December 2011 which indicates, among other things, the danger points on the long journey towards the U.S.

The Committee of Relatives of Dead and Missing Migrants of El Salvador (COFAMIDE) says that 319 Salvadorans have disappeared in Mexico since 2006, with only 60 of these cases having been cleared up.

But COFAMIDE, which on May 11 presented its application to be considered for selection to the Council, believes many more migrants may be missing.

“We want to be on the Council to make sure it addresses the issue of those killed and disappeared in Mexico,” COFAMIDE lawyer Lissette Campos told IPS.

Members of COFAMIDE demonstrated in front of the Mexican embassy in San Salvador this month to demand that the Mexican government create a committee of international forensic experts to lead efforts to find and identify the remains of migrants.

The demonstrators particularly requested that deceased migrants not be buried in common graves, and that their remains be preserved for identification, a repetition of the call made at a Mar. 23 hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in Washington.

Another issue COFAMIDE would like to address from within the Council is the problem of the family break-ups that occur when parents leave the country in pursuit of a better future for themselves and their families, leaving their children with relatives, usually grandparents.

But the law has drawn criticism as well. One of the shortcomings pointed out is that it does not address El Salvador’s own role as a transit territory for migrants, especially from South America, and even Asia, who arrive in the region before heading on towards the United States.

In addition, the local press has reported frequent abuse suffered by migrants from Nicaragua and Honduras who have settled in eastern El Salvador.

“It is incoherent for us to want to protect our citizens on the one hand while at the same time trampling the rights of people passing through our territory. It isn’t logical, and this is a problem that must be solved by the Council,” said IDHUCA’s Pérez. (END)

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