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A New Law on Forcible Displacement Gives Thousands of Salvadorans a New Lease on Life

FILE - Two U.S. asylum seekers, one from El Salvador, one from Honduras, wait inside a migrant house after being sent to Guatemala from the United States, in Guatemala City, Dec. 3, 2019.

El Salvador has passed a new law on internally displaced people that the U.N. refugee agency says will offer a new lease on life for tens of thousands of victims forcibly displaced by gang violence and organized crime.

The U.N. refugee agency reports gang violence has forcibly displaced an estimated 71,500 Salvadorans between 2006 and 2016 within their own country. Over the last few years, the agency reports the malign grip of organized crime in El Salvador and other countries in Central America has sent an increasing number of people fleeing to the United States in search of protection.

UNHCR spokeswoman Liz Throssell tells VOA internal displacement as a result of organized crime and criminal gangs continues to be an extremely serious problem in El Salvador and Honduras.

“So, what we are doing is we are welcoming the fact that the Salvadoran authorities are really taking this first step to address the problem of internal displacement," Throssell said. "I think clearly, if there are efforts to prevent internal displacement, that is also going to have a knock-on effect to external displacement.”

These are still early days, as El Salvador’s National Assembly just passed the law on Friday and has yet to be implemented. The law aims to protect, aid and offer solutions to the tens of thousands of victims of forced displacement. Under its provisions they would gain access to humanitarian aid and have basic rights restored, including effective access to justice.

Throssell says the law could have a lasting positive impact on the lives of the more than 70,000 uprooted by gang violence once it is signed into law by President Nayib Bukele.

“The law reflects the growing momentum in Central America and beyond to recognize and respond to the phenomenon of internal displacement," Throssell said. "In Honduras, where an estimated 247,000 people have been displaced by violence within their own country, the National Congress is considering legislation similar to the law passed in El Salvador.”

Throssell says Mexico also recognizes the serious impact of internal displacement and has expressed its commitment to pass similar legislation at the federal level.