The following is an excerpt from the article ‘Migration isn’t going to stop’: Salvadorans join new caravans published in Al Jazeera in 2019.
San Salvador, El Salvador – Alex Gonzalez decided to flee El Salvador on the spur of the moment. Waking up from a recurring nightmare about gang violence, Gonzalez packed a small bag and left home that day, joining the latest caravan of migrants and refugees heading north from Central America.
The 22-year-old from the department of La Paz had so far managed to resist pressure to join his local street gang, but when the gang started to ask him for protection money he could little afford, he made up his mind to flee.
[In 2019], he joined a group of 200 people departing from the capital city of San Salvador . . .
“We are leaving a lot behind,” Gonzalez told Al Jazeera. He was travelling with his 20-year-old brother, Jose. Leaning against a Spiderman backpack filled with a handful of clothes, Gonzalez took out his phone to show photos of his six-month-old daughter, Ashley Elisabeth.
Unlike Jose, who had been unemployed for three months, Gonzalez had regular work, as he was a clown for hire for special events. But he said that the threats and extortions had become unbearable of late. He made around $230 a month, roughly on par with El Salvador’s minimum wage, but the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13 gang, would take $150, and make menacing phone calls when he failed to pay.
“I would regret becoming yet another victim in El Salvador,” he said. He tried to leave his neighbourhood quietly, fearing gang members would kill him if they knew he was trying to flee. He doubted the $150 he scraped together would last him until he reached the US border, but he tried not to think about it, and instead said simply: “God is great.”
He planned to request asylum in the US, where his 17-year-old sister was also an asylum seeker. She’d fled their home about two years ago, fearing for her safety after she was raped by what she said were gang members. Gonzalez was also worried about the rest of his family, especially his daughter.
Unlike Gonzalez, 48-year-old Rafael Guillen from San Martin wanted his three children to be able to stay in El Salvador and receive a good education. He said he would only live in the US on a temporary basis, and just saw it as a way to earn more money. A street vendor in El Salvador, he hadn’t received any threats from street gangs himself. But as he went from bus to bus selling sweets and biscuits, he constantly had to think about not getting caught in clashes between rival gangs.
“If you leave your house [in El Salvador], you run the risk of not returning,” he told Al Jazeera. “If you migrate to another country, at least if something happens, you die in the attempt.”1
- 1 : Heather Gies, ‘Migration isn’t going to stop’: Salvadorans join new caravans, Al Jazeera, January 17, 2019.