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Gang-related Asylum In El Salvador

Author: Alena Shautsova

El Salvador (officially known as the Republic of El Salvador) is a Central American country with an estimated population of 6,830,000 persons as of 2021. The country operates a unitary presidential system with Nayib Bukele as President.

Since the end of the Salvadoran Civil War, El Salvador has been home to an increasing rate of criminal activities. El Salvador had the world highest case of murder in 2012. Prominent amongst cases of criminal activities in El Salvador are gang-related violence and juvenile delinquency. Gang-related violence or crime is mostly responsible for the massive cases of threats, tortures, and murders prevalent in El Salvador.

What gave rise to such a scenario? What are the contributing factors to the high rate of gang activities in El Salvador? How does it affect Salvadoran asylum cases?

These are some questions this article aims to answer.

Crime Activities Prevalent In El Salvador

Amongst the recorded criminal activities in the state of El Salvador, the worst of them are gang-related activities. Gang activities are not just despicable for the extreme acts of violence (including threats, torture, maiming of victims, drug abuse, sexual abuse, and murders), but also because juveniles and women are forced to join them.

Gang activities in El Salvador can be traced to the period of the 12-year long Salvadoran Civil War, spanning from 1979 to 1992. In the wake of the Civil War, many Salvadorans fled to Los Angeles to avoid the brutality and violence at home.

As undocumented immigrants in the US, a group of Salvadorans came together to protect themselves against the prejudices of the more dominant gangs in Los Angeles. This group later became known as Mara Salvatrucha or the MS-13 gang. The gang is a Salvadoran ethnic-based gang of about 70,000 persons globally. It was formed around the 1970s and 1980s.

Needless to say that a rival gang known as 18th Street or MS-18 existed since the 1960s. MS-18 is a multi-ethnic gang of about 50,000 persons.

Upon deportation of immigrant gang members from the U.S. due to extreme activities. Members of these gangs came back home to El Salvador, spelling chaos for the small nation.

Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street are the predominant gangs in El Salvador, and are responsible for countless numbers of crimes in the country including but not restricted to infanticide and femicide.

Why Salvadorans Are Forced To Seek Asylum Elsewhere

Every year, thousands of persons from El Salvador are displaced due to the persistent turbulence in the country. These persons flee to other countries to seek asylum. While gang-related violence is a major cause of this mass migration, other factors such as an unstable economy, corruption, and natural disasters contribute to the unsafe nature of El Salvador.

Although the government of El Salvador seems to be putting effort into reducing the level of violence, it appears the effort isn't yielding results or they are not trying hard enough.

Of persons who run out of El Salvador due to the continued violence, children are included. Many of these children leave their homes unaccompanied in a bid to avoid the gun violence that exists in their locale. Since they can't seek asylum as juveniles, they mostly would wait till they are of age to apply for asylum.

In short, a major cause for Salvadorans to seek asylum and refugee status in other countries, is the bloody brutality of gang-related violence in their home country.

Cases Of Salvadoran Asylees

The Organisation of Salvadoran Women for Peace(ORMUSA) reported that about 4,300 people suffered from sexual violation in 2018, a 23% increase than in 2017. Of this number, 92% of the abuse victims were females. 383 women and girls were murder victims in 2018 as well.

These cases are usually underreported due to the fear of retaliation on the victims. Although there are more visible reports of violence on women, this does not exclude the men, boys and children who are equally abused and killed in large numbers.

Ana (real names withheld), tells the story of how she was beaten and raped at the age of 17 by the neighbourhood gang in San Salvador. She was beaten continuously until she was left unconscious. According to her, she couldn't feel her body from the pain.

What was the reason for this? Her brother refused to join the gang and so they sought revenge and took it out on her as threatened. This caused her and her brother to flee El Salvador and seek asylum in Panama. The Panamanian government recognized them as refugees and currently, Ana and her brother are rebuilding their lives in Panama.

Valentina(real names also withheld) a US refugee, also tells of how she and her entire family fled to the US. According to her, in El Salvador, you never know if you will make it home alive at the end of the day.

El Salvador is a war zone with casualties involving civilians with no affiliations to gangs. Adults and children are not safe. The worst aspect of living in El Salvador is just living. There is no peace, therefore having amongst others a negative physical and psychological effect on people.


18 January 2022
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