Returnees: ‘Hard workers, brave, and fighters’


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. 



The missing link: using new data for migration governance

Autor: Guest Contributor

The lack of consistent data and collection techniques among countries inhibits the accurate identification of migration trends, as well as the impact that migration has on the institutional framework, economy and wellbeing of people in a country or region.

What are the challenges in migration data?

The first objective for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration stresses the importance of investing in the collection and use of accurate data to conduct evidence-based policy-making.

However, due to lack of technical resources, human capacity and/or funding, many states share limitations in the systematic collection and management of migration data.

According to IOM’s Migration Data Portal, there is more data collected on topics like migrant stocks and remittances, whereas topics such as migration flows, smuggling, migrant health, integration and the impact of migration policies have significant data gaps.

Many developing states simply don’t have the capacity to collect and systematize data at a nationwide scale. For example, according to IOM’s regional report, all ten Commonwealth Caribbean countries have departments or offices dedicated to the development of statistical information, but Jamaica is the only country which has collected migration data that can be systematically disaggregated.

Disaggregated data is particularly valuable, allowing states and organizations to have information on people that is comparable by sex, age, migration status and other relevant characteristics. This way, needs for specific migrant groups like children or women can be made visible and addressed.

The gaps in migrant data can also be largely attributed to the lack of mechanisms that facilitate information sharing between different government agencies and organisms.

All countries maintain records on entries and exits, visas, and permits, but many of them implement different data collection and management practices. Thus, policies between and in states are sometimes incoherent, and countries must work with only patches of information, which restricts their ability to apply a holistic government approach to migration governance.

Amidst these challenges, countries and the international community continue to work towards effectively filling these gaps to attend peoples’ needs.

The promise of new data

In the past, the main method of collecting data was through traditional sources like household surveys, national censuses and administrative records. These sources have a high cost and limitations, like inflexible designs in surveys for example.

Today, new or innovative data sources such as geospatial data, satellite imagery, mobile device data and social media data are gaining momentum fast. These sources represent a huge opportunity given the increased availability of digital records, wider coverage, timeliness, and practically no limitations on how frequently the information can be updated.

The potential applications of new data for migration seem promising. Big data in particular can help anticipate migration trends and movements based on data from social media platforms like Facebook or even from online searches. This same data can also contribute to monitoring public opinion and media discourse on migration at a much lower cost than public surveys.

Nevertheless, the use of new data (especially big data) presents several challenges:

  • Ethical and privacy issues: Automatically generated data raises concerns about confidentiality, misuse and security risks such as surveillance. In the case of IOM, our Data Protection Manual outlines our principles and standards for data governance.
  • Information bias: Big data is inherently biased. Social media and mobile phone users naturally do not represent the entire population, since some segments are over-represented, while other segments don’t use or have access to technology due to factors such as age, sex and economic level. 
  • Technical challenges: Data held by private actors or government entities may be difficult to access or use due to security or legal reasons. One could also encounter weak security systems and inappropriate infrastructure for data collection and management. Additionally, technological change and innovation occur at a fast pace, leading to issues of data continuity.

The way we process and share information is changing, so it’s only responsible that we also work on integrating new and traditional methods with new ones, while improving expertise in new types of data, data analytics (such as machine learning) and use. For management and use, interagency coordination is key, as well as the collaboration with both private and public sectors to transform data into policies that impact real people’s lives and contribute to sustainable development.

Along this line, IOM is currently in the process of implementing a project financed by the International Development Fund (IDF) to strengthen the institutional capacities for migration through the development of a migration information system that will allow Mesoamerican and Caribbean countries to have data on migration relevant for the design of migration policies. 

One of the main activities of this project consists of creating a Regional Network for the development of a Virtual Information Platform for Migration Governance (VIPMG). This Network will work on the exchange of migratory information (records of international arrivals and departures, residences, returns and other administrative data), as well as strengthening coordination and information flows between countries.

This platform aims to include preliminary statistics and analytics of administrative data to provide decision-makers with evidence-based information to support policy-making, thus assisting in improving data management capacities in order to use administrative data to its full potential, and provide information to monitor the Sustainable Development Goals related to migration.

The Northern Triangle Migration Information Initiative (NTMI) also aims to fill gaps in data migration(such as data on returning migrants and registration coverage) and enable informed decision-making, but is focused on populations in the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras). NTMI has generated reliable information on migration, displacement and its relationship with development for its stakeholders in the region. 

Other resources:

IOM’s Migration Data Portal:

IOM’s Migration Information and Data Analysis System (MIDAS):

UN Global Working Group (GWG) on Big Data for Official Statistics:

IOM report, More than numbers: How data can have real impact on migration governance

 Northern Triangle Migration Information Initiative (NTMI) project (Gestión de Información de Movilidad Humana en el Triángulo Norte):