Refugee camps in El Salvador. [SLV1627]

The "indiscriminate attack[s] by the Salvadorian Military and forced recruitment by the guerrillas" [ Americas Watch Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights, Free Fire, A Report on Human Rights in El Salvador, Aug. 1984 Fifth Supplement, (New York: Americas Watch Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights, 1984), pp. 73-4.] in the four most easterly provinces of Cabanas, Chalatenango, San Miguel and Moraz n has led to both voluntary and government sponsored relocation of 500,000 [ Aguayo, Central Americans in Mexico and the United States, Appendix (p.79) .] persons into the central and coastal areas of El Salvador since 1980. The government policy of 'scorched earth' for separating the FMLN guerrillas from the civilian population resulted in the "forced evacuation of civilians from areas" [ Americas Watch, El Salvador's Other Victims the War on the Displaced, (New York: Americas Watch Publications, 1984), pp. 39-40.] of counter-insurgency. These areas, once the population has been moved out, are often raised to the ground with aerial bombardment and by the torching of any infrastructure that may be of aid to the rebels, including any standing crops, crop storage areas and buildings.

About half of the displaced population have been relocated in camps administered either by governmental or non-governmental organizations. The rest have moved in with relatives in urban areas or have resettled into squatter settlements near urban areas. Relocated populations often face harsh economic conditions as many do not posses skills which are in demand in urban areas. The result is that those in camps are dependant on governmental or non-governmental support for survival and those not in camps have swollen the ranks of the unemployed in El Salvador, contributing to a 32% unemployment rate. [ Alfredo G.A. Valladao, ed., L'ETAT DU MONDE Edition 1987 - 1988 Annuaire économique et géopolitique mondial, (Paris: Editions La Découverte, 1987), p.333. ]

The government handling of these displaced populations has been widely criticized. The governmental organizations which assists internally displaced persons, known by its Spanish acronym, CONADES,

"has conditioned receipt of its humanitarian assistance for the displaced on registration. This entails disclosure of the beneficiary's name, age, sex, and place of origin, as well as their family members. In the context of El Salvador such information is highly sensitive. Persons whom the military has branded subversives (in part because it regards all desplazados from certain areas as guerrilla sympathizers) are simply unwilling to share this information with a government agency. Instead, they receive aid from church and voluntary agencies, who run risks themselves by aiding the displaced whom the military regards as subversive if only because they are unregistered." [ Free Fire, Americas Watch, pp. 86-7.]
The poor conditions of the camps, the human right abuses including arbitrary arrests and disappearances, especially in the non-government sponsored camps, has been well documented by the Americas Watch group. [ El Salvador's Other Victims: the War on the Displaced, Americas Watch, 1984.] In general, government-run camps tightly control the movement of persons in and out of the camps. Non-governmental camps monitor the movement of the occupants within the camp and the supply of rations is strictly supervised by the military. [ Free Fire, Americas Watch, pp. 77-8.]

In January and February of 1986 "Operation Phoenix" was undertaken by the Salvadorian Army. This major counter-insurgency effort to unseat guerrillas from towns and areas that had been rebel controlled for up to six years was successful, but in the course of operations several thousand citizens had to be relocated. [ Keesing's Contemporary Archives Record of World Events, Vol. XXXII, 1986, No. 6, (Harlow U.K.: Longman Group Ltd, 1986), p. 34413.] This relocation process was "forced relocation" according to Americas Watch. [ Americas Watch Committee, SETTLING INTO ROUTINE Human Rights Abuses in Duarte's Second Year, (New York: Eight supplement to the Report on Human Rights in El Salvador, The Americas Watch Committee, 1986), p. 25.] As well "during the operation 1,045 civilians [were] captured, many of whom have since disappeared." [Keesing's Contemporary Archives Record of World Events, Vol. XXXII, 1986, p. 34413.]

"In late 1986 the government started a re-population programme called 'United to Rebuild'." [ Ibid., p. 34413.] This effort brought people out of the relocation camps in central Salvador and set them up in new towns in the highland areas. By the end of 1987 "25 public resettlement efforts had been carried out." [ 1987 Annual Report On The Human Rights Situation in El Salvador, (Toronto: ICCHRLA, 1987), p. 16.]

At the same time some of the population who had not been in the relocation camps began to spontaneously return to their former residence in the mountainous eastern provinces.

Along side this government strategy of counter-insurgency oriented resettlement (often, over the last two years, in areas but recently "unsettled" by the forced evacuation of civilians in the course of government military operations), there have been alternative expressions of a move back to the land. Independent resettlement efforts are the product principally of mounting frustration at the duration of displacement caused by the war and desperation in the face of decaying living conditions in the cites and other places of refuge." [ Annual Report, ICCHRLA, 1987, p. 16.]

Please find attached sections from the Americas Watch documents, El Salvador's Other Victims: The War on the Displaced, (1985) and The Civilian Toll 1986-87 (1987), which discuss the situation of the displaced in El Salvador.