Imagine that you could make a proposal for any infrastructure necessity in your neighbourhood, or contribute to the design of a playground for children. Wouldn’t you feel that you live in a more inclusive place and your voice is being heard in your community? Now, imagine that returned migrants, no matter how long they have spent abroad, could be part of these participatory processes. It would help them to feel part of the community, right?
Reintegration is a key aspect to repatriation/return migration. One of the factors that determine its sustainability is the social stability of communities receiving returned migrants (IOM, 2016). In that sense, IOM in El Salvador carries out construction initiatives for recreational purposes and social cohesion in the municipalities of Mejicanos, Zacatecoluca, Usulutan and San Miguel, where there is a high registered rate of returnees, but also of violence. These infrastructure projects represent safe places for recreation and coexistence in the returned migrants’ communities of origin, while supporting social stability.
Collaborative construction. Citizen participation has been a key in this type of initiatives, through community based infrastructures. Not only because people are allowed to have a say in the decision making process, but also because through community participation there is a better understanding of their needs and perspectives, which results in better designs and execution of the infrastructure projects. This is how we get more sustainable and participatory projects.
How do we manage to carry out these collaborative construction processes in successful manner? By using the three following key points:
- Citizen participation: we accompany the communities in their participation throughout the infrastructure projects. This participatory exercise is executed in coordination and through associations or communal groups, local government and national institutions.
- Listen to the community: the beneficiaries provide valuable information on concrete needs, risks and progress of the infrastructure projects, as well as new proposals to be taken into consideration.
- Civic monitoring: the community’s leaders have continuous access to the infrastructure projects and collaborate in monitoring and executing the construction. They communicate directly with IOM.
Furthermore, citizen participation is vital in all stages of the infrastructure project. These are all phases on the participatory infrastructure project:
- First approach with the community to promote the project.
- Identification and analysis of the community’s needs.
- Selection and definition of the construction project with community inputs.
- Community’s participation in the design phase (including the specific design’s needs).
- Construction of the infrastructure project (including hiring qualified community members in construction, as well as the creation of administrative committees).
- Use of the infrastructure project (administrative committees organize and execute community participation in the maintenance and management of the infrastructure project).
Other actors are also part of the process. Local and national governments’ vision is very important to promote inclusive, safe and sustainable spaces, in favour of the community.
This how together with communities and governments, we design and build communal houses, places for participation and recreation, parks and sport fields. As a result of this experiment, 450 families from San Miguel and 7450 from Usulutan, have beneficiated from collaborative infrastructure projects. This communities with high rates of returnees could enjoy better conditions for their reintegration.
When talking about infrastructure construction projects it is necessary to take into account the existing social fabric to create together with communities, a vision of equality, transparency and coexistence; especially in those welcoming many returnees, where there is a need of a sustainable a humane reintegration.
About the authors:
Camilo Mantilla is an IOM Program Officer for El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. He has worked as a legal advisor and project manager for IOM in Central America and Colombia. Camilo is a lawyer with a Master in International Law from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Boston. Twitter: @camilomantillav
Ernesto Heske is the IOM Infrastructure Coordinator for El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. He has worked as coordinator of IOM infrastructure projects in the Northern Triangle of Central America and is a Civil Engineer with a Master's Degree in Urban Planning from the University of Stutgart, Germany.