Denial and disdain in the face of forced displacement

This article was originally published in Spanish by Noticias UCA (Antiguo Cuscatlán), on May 5, 2018. An English version was translated and published by Cristosal (San Salvador) on May 7, 2018.


Este artículo también está disponible en español.


Admitting forced internal displacement exists would mean admitting defeat for the government. Their refusal to accept the problem makes an already desperate situation worse for displaced people. Thus, the government’s position regarding internal displacement is not just lazy, but malicious.

In the vacuum caused by the government’s inaction, many victims of forced displacement choose not to use other support networks, because they don’t want to risk making their already-precarious situations worse. Data published in Cristosal’s 2017 Report on Forced Displacement in El Salvador reveals that 37.9% of the displaced persons registered by Cristosal and the Quetzalcoatl Foundation in 2017 were between 0 and 17 years old. The average displaced family included three members.

A report from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office in 2017 indicated that at least 30% of displaced families were single mothers with children. Although both reports show an apparent gender parity among the victims of this phenomenon, it is clear that a good percentage of displaced women are the sole breadwinners for two minors. Therefore, they require assistance that considers the need to care for children and adolescents.

When Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde, Minister of Security and Justice, was asked about the lack of comprehensive attention to displaced persons at the presentation of Cristosal’s report, he responded sarcastically by saying that the National Civil Police (known by its Spanish acronym, PNC) cannot be expected to mix baby formula for displaced persons. The comment is clearly misogynistic. The Minister finds it degrading that the honorable police would be forced to feed the children they are unable to protect. Surely, if the PNC were to assume that role, it would delegate it to the lowest-ranking agents.

Ramírez Landaverde’s comment is cruel, reflecting his total aversion to the idea of engaging the police in care work. It shows the Ministry of Justice and Public Security’s total disdain for victims of forced displacement. The Ministry is not only incapable of preventing the conditions that drive displacement, but, once it has occurred, is offended by the need to face it.Someone who has abandoned their heritage, community, and way of life because of threats from criminal groups already faces a precarious economic situation. When they also bear the responsibility of caring for children, the economic and psychological impact is much greater.

If the government cannot even be trusted to prosecute the threats or killings that force people to flee, how can we expect it to understand the need to really protect and assist victims? To recognize these victims as people who are living through trauma, facing economic instability, being forced to drop out of school, and losing their community and heritage? In short, how can we talk about integral attention to victims of internal displacement by violence when the idea of victims’ humanity is laughable to those responsible for protecting them?