Last month local media in El Salvador highlighted an Inter-American Foundation (IAF) grantee partner for its groundbreaking economic report on the conditions of families of disappeared migrants. The Committee of Families of Deceased and Missing Migrants of El Salvador Association (COFAMIDE) called for the urgent need for more support, including from the Salvadoran government, for these families.
On April 20, 2017, COFAMIDE hosted a panel of experts, including IAF representation, to explain their findings. El Noticiero de Canal 6 (Channel Six News) and other media outlets covered the event.
COFAMIDE surveyed some 120 individuals who lost a loved one who attempted to migrate. The report reveals that these families are at a significant economic disadvantage compared to the rest of the population. The average household monthly income of survey participants was $538 — about $300 less than the national average. Nineteen percent of these families live on less than $100 per month. Survey participants averaged only 6.8 years of formal schooling. Eighty-six percent had no access to bank loans. More than half had no flush toilet at home. Many also suffer from psychosocial trauma triggered by the disappearance of a family member.
COFAMIDE’s report is the first of its kind. Reports on migration tend to focus on migrants and root causes of migration. COFAMIDE’s report represents the family members and communities left behind. The report examines the social and economic costs and lack of public resources for these families. It brings visibility to one of the most overlooked and marginalized subsets of the population.
Secretary general of COFAMIDE Anita Zelaya noted that government policies exist to respond to needs of the migrant and returnee. For migrants that go missing or die on the unforgiving trip north, it’s a different story.
“It’s all about the migrant — where he’s going — and not with the rights of families,” Zelaya said. “Many of the families do not even have the economic means to receive the remains of their relatives and bury them.”
Policies do not account for the psychological care of relatives of deceased or missing migrants. In some cases women and older adults must seek work when a breadwinner decides to leave home.
COFAMIDE estimates 70,000 missing migrants throughout Central America. The organization has worked 290 individual cases. They found 50 migrants alive and located the remains of 40 people who died on their way to the United States. The remains of 11 of those deceased still await repatriation to El Salvador.
With IAF support since 2016, COFAMIDE helps families of those left at home cope with psychological and economic stress. They operate a program that includes counseling services and leadership training for families of the disappeared. Another program provides seed money to entrepreneurs who want to start businesses in El Salvador.
In a recent meeting with an IAF representative in El Salvador, COFAMIDE participants shared stories of the consequences of the migrant trail. They spoke about COFAMIDE’s crucial interventions:
“I lost my wife,” said one man. “Today I know she died, and I am waiting for the repatriation of her remains. With [COFAMIDE’s] support I have opened a clothing business that helps me provide my children a dignified life without having to risk migrating or participating in crime.”
COFAMIDE also develops programs geared toward preventing young people from leaving home in the first place. A new campaign launched in March 2017 carries powerful stories of kidnappings, violence and death on the migrant trail. Using radio spots and online media, COFAMIDE delivers the message, “Your dreams can turn into nightmares.”
The New York Times recently described the frequency of deaths and disappearances along the U.S.–Mexico border as a “humanitarian crisis.” There are 6,023 deaths documented in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas from October 2000 through September 2016.
At the IAF, we will continue to applaud and support COFAMIDE’s efforts to alleviate this crisis.