Local governments and reintegration: the success of Zacatecoluca

 

In the efficient management of return processes, the Salvadoran municipality of Zacatecoluca has shown that, with a focused strategy, local governments can promote an integral reintegration of returnees and address the multiple causes of migration.

In 2015, this community of some 75 million inhabitants was the fourth most violent municipality in El Salvador. The violence and the difficulties faced by the population promoted a life project that favored irregular migration and negatively impacted the development indexes.

In 2018, Zacatecoluca occupies the tenth position among the municipalities with the highest number of returnees to El Salvador from the United States and Mexico, according to the statistics of the General Directorate of Migration and Immigration.

Despite a complex panorama, the municipality reports an improvement in the local competitiveness index and a reduction in violence by 60% according to the information registered by the Municipal Observatory for the Prevention of Violence, fed with data from the Police National Civil (PNC). This change has substantially improved the climate of citizen security and the quality of life of its residents.

How was this transformation achieved?

Zacatecoluca has launched a series of coordinated actions to improve performance in social and economic indicators, as well as a national and local strategy to improve the attention of the migrant and returnee population. This strategy consists of four elements:

  1. Preventive approach. The community has assumed the structural prevention of violence through the generation of a framework of protection, the creation of opportunities and the recovery of spaces. Some of the initiatives under this line of action include the creation of workshop schools, the promotion of projects for entrepreneurs, reintegration into the education system through flexible education modalities, the opening of youth employment offices focused on the population at risk and the promotion of artistic and cultural practices. Similarly, Zacatecoluca created a local office for victims of violence, which provides psychological services, legal advice and recreation to people who have survived sexual abuse, gender violence and domestic violence, among others.
  2. Increase in competitiveness. Zacatecoluca has also promoted an improvement in its municipal competitiveness indexes. This has been possible thanks to the development of innovative proposals that have attracted investment and improved mobility. The authorities have sought the inclusion of the rural sector and have applied the use of technologies to add value to the products of the area, but above all they have incorporated a gender and youth approach to reach the most vulnerable populations.
  3. Specific interventions for insertion of the returnee population. With the participation and cooperation of the IOM and the technical advice of the National Council for the Protection and Development of the Migrant Person and their Family (CONMIGRANTES), the creation of the first municipal office at a national level to care for the migrant and their families was initiated. The office provides services and advice on the prevention of irregular migration, assistance to returnees and links with Salvadorans abroad.
  4. Establishment of multisector alliances. The national government, international agencies, cooperation agencies, academia, the private sector and civil society organizations have provided support to the municipal office to achieve goals such as return, readmission and dignified and sustainable reintegration; capacity development and recognition of qualifications and competences; linking returnees with job opportunities and enabling spaces for coexistence.

The progress of Zacatecoluca shows the importance of local governments having a greater role in the policies of prevention and management of migration. Undoubtedly, their close relationship with people offers multiple opportunities to improve their quality of life and offer them greater protection.

 

 

Francisco Salvador Hirezi Morataya  has a PhD in General Medicine from the University of El Salvador and a postgraduate degree at the Civil Hospital of Strasbourg, in Digestive and Endocrine Surgery. In 2009 he was elected Municipal Mayor of Zacatecoluca and currently holds his fourth term as mayor of this city. He is also a member of the Association of Municipalities of Los Nonualcos. Since 2015, he has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Corporation of Municipalities of the Republic of El Salvador (COMURES), currently serving as Director of Legal Affairs.

 


Extortion is Causing the Expulsion of Migrants from the Northern Triangle of Central America

Extortion is Causing the Expulsion of Migrants from the Northern Triangle of Central America
Categoria: Migrant Protection and Assistance
Autor: Guest Contributor

In cases of forced displacement, extortion is often mentioned as one of the main causes. However, extortion is located within a cycle of violence, such sexual violence, murder, etc., and it is difficult to identify a single incident of extortion as the sole reason for leaving a country.

Although its definition varies depending on national legislation, extortion can be understood as the use of threats, intimidation and other acts of violence to obtain actions or goods from another person against their will, as defined by the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Environmental Funds (REDLAC), in a special bulletin dedicated to this issue and upon which this post is based.

In the context of migration, kidnapping and extortion go hand-in-hand, as smugglers often extort money from migrants by threatening to kidnap their relatives. Extortion can also be committed in the other direction: relatives of migrants who have already arrived in another country are extorted by smugglers, demanding money from them so as not to harm the family member who has already migrated. This can often lead to persecution in communities of origin and destination.

In Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the serious issue of personal insecurity fuelled by drug trafficking and corruption has marked the region as one of the most violent on the planet, according to Amnesty International. In this context, extortion schemes demanding payments from local markets and small businesses are commonplace in gang-controlled territories. However, depending on the country, there can also be extortion demands  placed on homes, such as in Guatemala, where this accounts for 55% of extortion complaints.

There is also a difference between the type and impact of extortion experienced by men, women, children and the LGBTIQ+ population. In this sense, when women are extorted for money, threats are often combined with the intimidating possibility of sexual violence. According to the REDLAC bulletin, the bodies of women, adolescents, and girls are treated as territory for revenge and control while children are being increasingly recruited as rent collectors, among other functions.

Migrants are often also extorted by people who are not part of criminal groups but who take advantage of their vulnerable situation to turn a profit, such as locals who demand payment to cross private land rather than using routes with criminal gangs, or transporters who demand money from irregular migrants in exchange for not reporting them to immigration authorities. The same situation has been reported with employers who, on pay-day, threaten to report migrant workers for an irregular migrant status.

There are currently no figures on the number of people displaced or forced to migrate due to extortion in northern Central America, as this is part of a generalised climate of violence; however, some organisations locate this crime as one of the main reasons for migration from areas or even from the country.

 

Extortion during the pandemic

In the bulletin of the Network of Latin American and Caribbean Environmental Funds (REDLAC) which examines extortion as a trigger for internal displacement and forced migration in northern Central America and Mexico, some relevant points were also made about how extortion has adapted to the context of COVID-19:

  • In El Salvador, COVID-19 has reduced the income of gangs, but they have not lost territorial control. Some gangs have established restrictions, such as allowing one individual per family to make food purchases, to reduce the risk that a gang member may become ill and not be able to access medical care.
  • In Honduras, the paralysis of the transportation and informal trade sectors, generally common sectors for extortion, has registered a decrease in cases of extortion due to the pandemic. However, there have been reports of threats of retroactive charges once commerce resumes, house-to-house tariffs, and road ‘tolls’, and scams executed by gangs. Food distributors are frequent victims of extortion when entering communities.
  • In Guatemala, extortion has not stopped either, although at the beginning of the pandemic some maras (gangs) granted ‘pardons’ in their communities. However, national agencies predict that when the restrictive measures end, there will be an increase in other crimes and that extortion will return as a greater threat.
  • Mobility restrictions increase the risk of people being trapped in violent environments, making it difficult to seek support in other territories and countries. Despite this, many people seek and will continue to seek irregular migration options, despite the dangers of the pandemic, in order to leave the high-violence, low-income contexts in which they live.