Youth outreach centres in El Salvador: providing alternatives to displacementedit
A growing number of youth are fleeing El Salvador, one of the most violent countries in the world, and travelling unaccompanied to the US-Mexico border. Youth Outreach Centres have been set up in El Salvador to try to improve conditions in their neighbourhoods and encourage young people to stay.The number of unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras attempting to cross the United States (US) border has increased dramatically in recent years, growing from 2,304 in 2012 to nearly 47,000 in 2016. Many are leaving their homes because of the threat of violence and fear of gang activity in their neighbourhoods. Clearly US policy should respond to this humanitarian crisis by recognising these children’s legitimate claims to refugee protection but international development efforts must also continue to address in-country ‘push’ factors. The question is how to do this effectively and efficiently. Today in El Salvador the problems of poverty, corruption, gang activity, violence and drug trafficking are multi-faceted and intertwined. Poverty and unemployment serve as fodder for gang recruitment, expanding gang territory and escalating crime rates. Although its protracted civil war was resolved 25 years ago, decades of instability in El Salvador since then have resulted in underdeveloped civil institutions and limited international support for the resolution of enduring economic and social problems. Children and youth in low-income families are highly affected by the quality of their communities. Neighbourhood violence and gang activity leave them vulnerable, and youth are at heightened risk of police abuse. Together, these circumstances and neighbourhood conditions put youth at risk of victimisation, gang involvement and other hazards that undermine their sense of hope.