Disappearances and emigration on the rise in El Salvador

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[The analysis that follows is from Salvadoran popular education institute Equipo Maíz. Reprinted and translated with permission. Read the original in Spanish here.]

This year, all of the social ills of the country—including unemployment, increases in the cost of living, femicides, among others—have worsened. In the case of disappearances and the emigration of people out of El Salvador, the growth is terrifying.

Alarming increase in disappearances between 2020-2021

Murders and forced disappearances of people are the worst criminal acts. In general, people who are reported missing do not return, or are found dead. And if they do return alive, the psychological damage they and their families suffer is severe.

According to El Salvador’s Attorney General, in 2020 there were 662 missing persons.[1] As of October 2021, a total of 1,192 people have disappeared: an 80% increase over last year.[2]

In the case of disappeared women, from June 2019 through June 2021, a total of 50% were underage girls and adolescents. Many were temporarily kidnapped and sexually assaulted; others were murdered. Of the men who disappeared in the same period, 49% were younger than 30 years of age. They disappeared for refusing to join gangs or for passing through territories controlled by criminal groups, among other reasons.[3]

At least 270 people leave the country every day

Between September 2020 and September 2021, a total of 98,690 Salvadorans were detained at the US border (15,529 of them minors). That is the largest number recorded in the last 10 years and is five times higher than that of the 2019-2020 period.[4]

Why are people leaving? Mainly because their living conditions have worsened and they have given up hope for a better future in El Salvador. They decide it’s better to leave, mainly en route to the United States, even though they rack up debt of up to $14,000 to do so, largely paid to the "coyotes" who take people to the United States.

The alarming increase in disappearances and emigration show the deterioration of the country since Nayib Bukele has taken power and negates the government’s narrative that repeatedly says that conditions are better in El Salvador. If that were true, why are so many people leaving every day? Why are hundreds of families in anguish and unable to locate their missing relatives?

On the contrary, the country has regressed in all areas. The years that this government has left in power will worsen conditions for people, and it’s those very same people who will have to put an end to this tragic situation.

  1. Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos. Situación de derechos humanos en El Salvador. p. 32. https://www.oas.org/es/CIDH/jsForm/?File=/es/cidh/prensa/comunicados/2021/289.asp
  2. Observatorio Universitario de Derechos Humanos. https://www.uca.edu.sv/idhuca/sobre-la-desaparacion-de-personas/
  3. Ibid.
  4. https://www.laprensagrafica.com/departmento15/98000-salvadorenos-detenidos-en-la-frontera-sur-de-EUA-20211026-0011.html

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