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The challenge of tracking displaced populations in El Salvador

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Rebecca Blackwell/AP/File

(Read caption) Central American migrants wait atop the freight train they had been traveling north on, as it starts to rain after the train suffered a minor derailment outside Reforma de Pineda, Chiapas state, Mexico, June 20, 2014.

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• Insight Crime researches, analyzes, and investigates organized crime in the Americas. Find all of Elyssa Pachico’s work here.

According to media reports in El Salvador, dozens of families abandoned their homes in a small coastal town due to threats from the MS13 gang, an example of how organized crime remains one of the major causes of displacement in Central America

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Salvadoran newspaper El Diario de Hoy reported that at least 50 families left their homes in the town of San Luis La Herradura, fearful of threats reportedly issued by MS13 gang members. The newspaper published a video and photos showing people apparently gathering up their belongings, accompanied by a few shots of police patrolling the area. According to Prensa Grafica, community members said that a gang had threatened to punish the town for providing shelter to two ex-gang members. 

In a statement provided to newspaper El Mundo, police said that only one family had left the area, as several members of that family belong to a gang and had received threats. 

InSight Crime Analysis

While there have been other reported cases of relatively small displacements in El Salvador, the issue remains difficult to track as there is no government agency in El Salvador that follows the country's internally displaced population. When El Faro reported on the problem for InSight Crime in 2012, as part of a special series on displacement in the region, the government body that best registered the scale of El Salvador's displacement was a low-income housing fund, which tracks how many people abandoned their homes over the years. Without any central government authority keeping track of the problem, it is hard to say how many Salvadorans have been affected by internal displacement, and whether the recent events in San Luis are an anomaly or not. 

However, according to statements made last year by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, threats by gangs and organized crime is the major cause of displacement in the Northern Triangle region (GuatemalaEl Salvador, and Honduras). The UN agency said that according to the most recent data, in 2012 some 1,620 Salvadorans asked to seek asylum in other countries, along with another 8,153 refugees.

El Salvador isn't the only country in the region that's in the dark regarding its rate of internal displacement. Mexico is also having a hard time tracking the issue, along withBrazil


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