Discrimination is to separate, exclude or treat someone differently on the basis of their physical characteristics, ways of thinking, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, economic status, amongst others. Discrimination is also thinking that migrants or returnees are criminals who have failed in their lives, and therefore they shouldn’t have the same rights or opportunities as the rest of the population. Equally, discrimination is to show ignorance!
According to the General Immigration Department (DGME) data, in El Salvador during 2016, more than 50,000 people were returned, including many women and men who didn’t fulfill the requirements to settle in a new country and had no other option than coming back. These include people whose names, stories and memories remain unknown, who were born here but studied abroad; people who made a hard decision by leaving and once they came back they confronted such public opinion.
However, behind the numbers there are human beings, tired faces caused by the long return journey, with uncertainties and concerns. Some of them with the idea of taking the journey again and some others with the hope of moving forward in their countries. Either way, it is with mixed feelings because they will see again the people they had left behind and will miss those who stayed in their home countries.
David is one those persons. He is a migrant who decided to take migrate with the aim of helping his family financially. He now tells the story as a man, but he was just a teenager when he faced the risks of irregular migration. That same young man lived abroad for 9 years, in a country where the language, food, traditions and culture are different from his, but he was forced to return due to his immigration status.
His home community is in a municipality of approximately 2,674 inhabitants, it is located 72 km from the capital city, and according to data collected by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in 2016, the town received 75 returnees. David is an inhabitant of Dulce Nombre de María in the department of Chalatenango in El Salvador.
The main economic activities of the municipality are agricultural and forest crops, selling of basic grains and vegetables, tourism, and, in a smaller scale, technical services. As a small municipality, most of the people in the city area know each other and know what their neighbors do for living.
It wasn’t easy for David to be reintegrated, “People usually thought that I had money because I was coming back from the United States, but when they saw it was not the case they walked away”. That is how he summarizes the reception in his home community. “You feel a huge difference when the people you know since you are child treat you as a stranger as time goes by”.
During the process of adaptation, as David describes, it is to start from scratch: “Little by little I have overcome many situations. There was a moment when I told myself: ‘What’s done, is done’. Now, I want to hold my head high and I am trying to take steps forward”.
Like David, after being returned, many migrants are looking for development opportunities and they try to improve the quality of life for themselves and their families. The Director of the DGME, Hector Rodriguez, defines migrants as “hard workers, brave, and fighters” and “and they should be received as fellow countrymen who deserved a better opportunity”.
Both men and women returnees, as in the case of David, are bringing with them experiences and learning. They hope that someone tells them “I don’t discriminate against you” and provides them with support, as well. At the same time, returnees contribute to the stimulation of economic, social and cultural processes. Returned migrants bring with them new knowledge and skills that can play an essential role in developing their home communities.
David was assisted by a government programme in order to make economic progress in his life and to provide for his family, who despite the difficulties they never stopped supporting him. He is now creating opportunities for other people and he believes that he can make progress in the country. “It involves actively striving and those efforts are the same here and everywhere.”
Despite the stigma of being a returnee, he manages a small electrician business and he is definitely an example of perseverance and potential of returnees. “It requires daily hard work”, concluded David.
Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs – El Salvador, 2017
About the author:
José Miguel Gómez Estrada is a Communications Specialist at IOM El Salvador. He has served as a coordinator and a consultant in the field of institutional and political communications of several public and private entities, as well as in different international organizations. He is a publicist and he holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications Sciences from the Don Bosco University (UDB) in El Salvador.