SAN SALVADOR – The Salvadoran government’s response to the phenomenon of forced displacement triggered by gang violence, organized crime and, to a lesser extent, police harassment, is “irresponsible and cynical,” an expert said in an interview with EFE.
The highest levels of the Salvadoran government are refusing to acknowledge the problem and looking to shirk their obligation to provide care and protection to victims, according to Celia Medrano, a representative of a non-governmental organization known as Cristosal that works to protect the rights of those displaced by violence in Central America.
The government also is referring victims to organizations that are “known to be trying to do something,” Medrano said, slamming that conduct as “irresponsible and cynical.”
The 13 organizations that make up the Civil Society Roundtable on Forced Displacement by Violence and Organized Crime, among them Cristosal, had earlier blasted the government for ignoring the problem in a statement last October.
“There’s no institution within the Salvadoran government that can provide emergency attention in the medium or long term to families suffering from internal forced displacement,” that umbrella organization said then.
Civil society organizations have been forced to step in due to authorities’ negligence, although the government still bears ultimate responsibility for addressing the problem, Medrano said.
El Salvador’s former consul in Washington said her organization had received individuals bearing letters from lawmakers seeking help from NGOs in getting displaced persons out of the country.
“Removing people from the country is not a solution,” said Medrano, the Salvadoran Foreign Ministry’s former director of Human Rights Protection and Humanitarian Intervention.
“We have to work to make the country viable,” she insisted, while adding that NGOs have helped people leave El Salvador after confirming that the government had been incapable of providing them with protection.
The Civil Society Roundtable on Forced Displacement by Violence and Organized Crime attended to a total of 234 forced displacement cases involving 1,019 victims, mostly women, adolescents and children, between August 2014 and August 2016.
People are stigmatized when they seek assistance from the government and given no alternative other than returning to the area from which they had escaped, according to Medrano, who said that in the case of young people their only options are to die or join the gangs.
She also criticized the government’s contention that most of the displaced fled their homes and did not return because they have some link to the youth gangs, saying this was a ploy by authorities to downplay the phenomenon.
Medrano furthermore questioned the leading role played by the army in the government’s security strategy and the effect it was having on the civilian population.
She said that strategy ran contrary to the U.S.-backed Alliance for Prosperity Plan that encompasses Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and, among other things, commits those countries’ governments to limit their use of the military for public safety duties.