Search form

Central American asylum seekers wait as a U.S. Border Patrol agents take groups of them into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. photo by John Moore/Getty Images
Growing violence

El Salvador Crisis Watch

Levels of violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are akin to those in the deadliest war zones around the world. The International Rescue Committee provides emergency cash relief and lifesaving information services to people in El Salvador who have been uprooted by growing violence.

What's happening

  • Questions about immigration jumped by 1,500% on the IRC's CuéntaNos Central America migration information platform in the last months of 2020.

  • The platform has also seen a marked increase in searches related to employment and protection from gender-based violence in northern Central America, including in El Salvador.

  • Growing violence, rising poverty, natural disasters and COVID-19 are plunging millions of people in the region into even deeper crisis.

  • Thousands have fled their homes in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to seek safety and a better life at the southern border of the United States.

Learn more
Country facts
  • Population: 6.35 million
  • People displaced by crisis: 200,000-300,000
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 117 of 188
IRC response
  • Started work in El Salvador: 1984 (until 1992); 2018

El Salvador crisis briefing

El Salvador has been called the world’s most violent country. Decades of civil war and recent U.S. deportations have led to a dramatic increase in gang violence. In search of safety, hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans flee their homes every year and remain without basic resources for survival. The IRC is matching displaced people with critical information and services and providing emergency cash relief.

See all

What caused the current crisis in El Salvador?

Since the 1930s, El Salvador has experienced a range of crises including ethnic cleansing, military dictatorship, and natural disasters. Civil war in the 1980s saw an estimated 75,000 people killed and over one million displaced. In the aftermath of reconstruction from the war, violent gangs emerged, placing civilians in the middle of territorial conflicts and life-threatening danger. The level of violence is now greater than it was during the civil war.

Every year an estimated 200,000-300,000 Salvadorans flee their homes in search of safety. Since internal displacement is not recognized by the government, it’s difficult for organizations to know how many people are displaced, locate them and provide support. As a result, people are forced to move multiple times without any hope of stability. They will soon be left with no choice but to flee their country.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in El Salvador?

Hundreds of thousands of people remain uprooted from their homes and struggling to survive in dangerous conditions. Hidden and on the run, many cannot access lifesaving information about available services. They’re either removed from the resources they need or fear exposing their identities and being exploited by violent and territorial gangs. El Salvador also suffers from one of the highest homicide rates in the world.

Many people were found unable to meet basic needs due to lack of access to cash and jobs, especially in the critical period during and directly after fleeing their homes. They also expressed needs for psychosocial support and shelter. Extended families and friends frequently also are forced to flee because they are targeted by association.

Women and children are particularly vulnerable to violence. Children are being recruited by gangs, similar to how they were recruited as soldiers during the civil war. And women and girls are taken as possessions of gangs, raped and traded as property.

How does the IRC help in El Salvador?

The IRC’s mission is to help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future.

We first began assisting Salvadorans in 1984 during the civil war, which saw 600,000-800,000 people displaced by violence. We worked with local partners to provide health care and sanitation services, and to help displaced people reenter their communities. We finished our work after a peace treaty was signed in 1992. Now, violence and displacement are increasing once again.

The IRC is one of the first international organizations to declare a humanitarian crisis in El Salvador. Backed by decades of experience aiding displaced people and recent in-depth research about the crisis, the IRC will support the basic needs of Salvadorans affected by violence by:

  • launching CuéntaNos, an interactive information platform that provides trustworthy, up-to-date information and strengthens coordination between service providers and government institutions;
  • providing cash assistance to help people rebuild their lives;
  • providing emergency assistance to help high-risk people find shelter and safety;
  • working with local partners to improve the quality of their services in accordance with international standards.

What still needs to be done?

As violence continues to plague El Salvador, the IRC’s work is more critical than ever. We pledge to put the needs of those most affected by the crisis at the forefront of our efforts and to achieve measurable improvements.

We will continue to support uprooted people by focusing on the following areas providing mental health and psychosocial support for vulnerable Salvadorans and service providers.

News and features

Press releases