El Salvador

Migration within and beyond El Salvador’s borders has traditionally been associated with economic factors, but violence has become an increasingly recognised cause of forced displacement in the past decade. Despite a deteriorating security situation driven for the most part by organised criminal groups, however, the government had no reliable information on the phenomenon.

In order to provide a response to increasing violence in the country, the government approved the Safe El Salvador Plan (PESS) in September 2014 outlining priorities and actions for addressing internal displacement caused by violence and guaranteeing the protection and access to justice for victims of violence. It also created the Directorate for Victims’ Assistance (DAV), which requested support from JIPS in conducting a nationally-representative profiling exercise in partnership with UNHCR.

Project overview

Informing responses to internal displacement caused by violence ( 2016 – 2018)
The aim of the project was to paint a comprehensive picture of the phenomenon of internal displacement for the first time, including its magnitude, causes and impacts, as the basis for designing and implementing institutional responses to assist and protect the country’s IDPs and prevent future displacement.

The exercise was led by DAV, part of the Ministry of Justice and Public Security (MJSP), and carried out in collaboration with several other institutions and organisations, including:

UNHCR also contributed by providing technical and operational support, and the European Commission, via its Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Operations (ECHO), provided financial support for data collection activities. We provided technical support throughout the process, both on-site and remotely. The profiling report was launch in-country in March 2018

Profiling process & JIPS support

The process began in August 2016 with collaborative discussions among partners, aimed to clarify the objectives and develop the methodology for the exercise. Two workshops were later convened and brought representatives of government ministries and sectoral institutions together. These workshops identified the priority information needs and enabled a thorough review of the proposed methodology. The contextual knowledge and experience shared during these workshops was vital in developing relevant data collection tools and a detailed operational plan for the fieldwork.

The design of the exercise had to overcome some significant methodological challenges, chief among them the lack of a complete sampling frame of the target population, and the difficulty in identifying IDPs who live dispersed and tend to remain “hidden” for their security and protection. To overcome these challenges, a mixed methodology was designed that combined qualitative and quantitative data collection techniques. These included:

  • the analysis of secondary data and qualitative mapping to identify municipalities most likely to be hosting displaced communities
  • enumeration from which to extrapolate nationally representative results
  • a household-level survey of displaced and non-displaced families
  • in-depth interviews to better understand how displacement was affecting the lives of IDPs and their host communities.

Once the methodology had been finalised, the El Salvador Programme of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO) carried out the qualitative data collection, and the General Directorate of Statistics and Census (DIGESTYC) implemented the quantitative components. Subsequently, we supported the processing and analysis of the data.

MJSP’s groundbreaking report on internal displacement caused by violence in El Salvador was launched in Spanish (and subsequently in English) in March 2018, marking the first time that comprehensive and nationally owned information on the phenomenon has been published.

Impact & lessons learned

This profiling exercise constituted the first effort of El Salvador’s Ministry of Justice and Public Security to collect comprehensive evidence on displacement due to violence in the country. Similarly, it is the first time that official and agreed-upon information is available on the dimensions, characteristics and impacts of the phenomenon.

While state institutions have already taken important steps to respond to the displacement situation by setting up programmes and services particularly in the areas of legal guidance, access to justice and psychosocial support, the results of the profiling exercise helped to tailor these interventions more carefully to the needs of those affected.

Despite this significant progress many challenges persist, particularly the need for effective protection and security mechanisms, and policies and measures to prevent further displacement. In recognition of these, the publication of the profiling report was accompanied by several other steps to address internal displacement in the country, including:

  • the launch of a roadmap for inter-institutional coordination for a comprehensive response
  • a constitutional court decision that officially recognises internal displacement in the country. This decision, reached on July 13 2019, enabled open discussion on internal displacement and demonstrated the visibility of this issue and the priority placed on seeking solutions for the populations affected
  • the publication of the report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of IDPs on 23 April 2018, welcoming the profiling results and encouraging their broad use in the government response


Join us at these upcoming events

  • Partner Event
    27 May 19 - 31 May 19

    UN-Habitat Assembly 2019

  • Partner Event
    06 Jun 19 - 06 Jun 19

    Urban Profiling: How to start with a shared understanding in urban contexts (webinar)

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