Profiling Study on Internal Mobility Due to Violence in El Salvador

Ministry of Justice and Security Public (MJSP), in coordination with the Secretariat of Governance and Communications (SEGOB)


This study profiles individuals and families internally displaced due to criminal violence in El Salvador. A mixed-methods approach was employed including: a review of secondary information; qualitative mapping (interviews and participatory workshops with key informants in 20 selected municipalities); and enumeration and household surveys (covering 431 families with at least one displaced member, and 254 non-displaced families). Key findings:

  • Internal migration is common in El Salvador. 22 percent of enumerated families had at least one member who changed his or her place of residence within the country during the period 2006-2016.
  • Internal migration in El Salvador is a multi-causal phenomenon. The main causes of internal migration are: economic reasons (57 percent of families); family reasons (40 percent of families); and acts of violence or crimes (5 percent of families).
  • 1 percent of families in El Salvador at end-2016 had at least one member who was displaced between 2006-2016 due to violence.
  • Families forced to flee violence tend to be younger (average age of 30 compared to 33 among non-displaced families) due to higher number of adolescent members (ages 12-17) and young adult members (ages 18-29) associated with the increased risk of violence for teens and young adults. 54 percent of individuals displaced by violence are female (compared to 53 percent of non-displaced). 40 percent of displaced families are headed by women (compared to 42 percent of non-displaced families).
  • Displaced families have a lower dependency ratio (dependent population/working age population) of 45 percent (compared to 57 percent among non-displaced families) due to a larger proportion of working age members and a smaller proportion of elderly members.
  • The displaced population has a lower average educational attainment (31 percent have secondary or higher education, compared to 36 percent among the non-displaced).
  • The vast majority of the displaced population is forced to move because one or more immediate family members are victims. 87 percent of population displaced by violence fled because one or more family members were direct victims of violence. Major causes included: threats, intimidation or coercion (69 percent); extortion (24 percent); violence/insecurity in community of origin (20 percent); homicides (11 percent); and personal injuries (6 percent).
  • The most affected municipalities are capitals of each department, as well as those that register high levels of criminal violence. 42 percent of displacement due to violence occurs within municipalities (allowing the displaced to maintain employment).
  • Impacts of internal mobility due to violence include: emotional or psychological trauma (affecting 70 percent of the displaced population); and economic impacts due to the abandonment of properties in places of origin (42 percent), the separation of families (29 percent), loss of sources of income (28 percent), and interruption of education of minors (22 percent).
  • Families displaced by violence have specific vulnerabilities: only 33 percent of displaced families own property (compared to 70 percent of non-displaced families); 31 percent of displaced families live in overcrowded dwellings defined as three or more people per bedroom (compared to 20 percent of non-displaced families); and 49 percent of displaced families have no title deeds or written lease agreements (compared to 29 percent of non-displaced families).
  • Although access to education is similar among displaced and non-displaced families, children displaced in the last two years have less access to education compared to children displaced more than five years ago (75 percent versus 84 percent). The impacts of disruptions in education can have significant consequences for the children affected.
  • Participation in the labor force (including people working or looking for work) among displaced families is higher than among non-displaced families (64 percent versus 55 percent), reflecting their more acute economic needs. However, the proportion of those who cannot find employment is also higher (6 percent versus 4 percent).
  • Displaced families prefer to remain “invisible” and generally do not go to state or non-governmental institutions for assistance, fearing retaliation by criminal gangs. 70 percent of victims do not report events forcing them to move; 70 percent do not seek assistance.
  • 84 percent of the displaced population intends to remain in the place where they currently reside, and only 3 percent intend to return.