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El Salvador - Refugees

The Republic of El Salvador has ratified the 1951 Convention on Refugee Status, and the 1967 Protocol on Refugee Status, through Legislative Decree N° 167, of February 22, 1983, published in the Official Gazette (Diario Oficial) N° 46, Issue 278, of March 7, 1983.

The Determination of Persons with Refugee Status Act, created by means of Legislative Decree Nº 918, published in the Official Gazette N° 148, Issue 356, of August 14, 2002, establishes the legal framework regarding refugees. Through it are regulated the conditions of the refugee, the guaranties, and the rights of every individual of foreign origin to seek and receive refuge in national territory, and to safeguard his/her life, personal integrity, freedom, safety, and dignity.

Interpretation and application of the Law’s provisions are made in harmony with the principles of no discrimination, no return, family reunification, voluntary repatriation, and in the manner that best guarantees the efficacy of human rights and fundamental guaranties established in the Constitution of the Republic, and the international treaties ratified by the state.

To the effects of the legal framework, a refugee is considered to be every person:

a. Who due to grounded fears of being persecuted for reasons of race, ethnicity, gender, religion or belief, nationality, belonging to a determined social group or political opinion, is found outside of the country of his/her nationality, and cannot, as a result of such fears, or does not wish to accept the protection of that country;

b. Who lacking nationality and found outside of the country of his/her usual residency, due to grounded fears of being persecuted for reasons of race, ethnicity, gender, religion or belief, nationality, belonging to a determined social group or political opinions, cannot or, as a result of such fears, does not want to return to it; and

c. Who has fled his/her country of origin because his/her life, safety or freedom have been threatened by generalised violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights, or other circumstances that has seriously disrupted public law and order.

Rights and duties of refugees

Refugees enjoy in El Salvador the individual and social rights recognised in the Constitution, treaties and laws, with the exceptions and limitations that aforementioned legal instruments establish, and with the obligation to respect the Constitution, laws and authorities of the Republic.

Every refugee and members of their immediate family must be informed of their rights and obligations, and of procedures regarding documentation and assistance.

  • Refugees recognised as such, have a right to request the reunification of their immediate family members, to be understood as the spouse or life companion, children under 18 years of age, and dependent elderly adult parents, who will have the same legal status and same facilities of the family member officially recognised as a refugee.
  • Repatriation of refugees is voluntary and expressed individually, constituting for them an inviolable right. When a refugee expresses to the commission through the office of the secretary the wish to be repatriated, the committee will communicate to the General Office of Migration the pertinent resolution of cessation of refugee status, for corresponding effects.
  • The person who has been voluntarily repatriated will not lose the right to request refugee status again, provided that it is for cause subsequent to his/her repatriation, and pursuant to the determination of persons with refugee status act in force.

The Committee for the Determination of Persons with Refugee Status

The Determination of Persons with Refugee Status Act creates the Committee for the Determination of Persons with Refugee Status(CODER, for its initials in Spanish), composed of the Minister of Foreign Affairs or his/her representative and the Minister of the Interior or his/her representative.

The Committee is presided over by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and has as its main functions the application of provisions of the Convention on Refugee Status, the Protocol on Refugee Status, the Determination of Persons with Refugee Status Act, and any regulation related to the recognition, protection, and assistance of refugees not contradictory to the aforementioned legal instruments.

Moreover, it is the responsibility of the Committee to determine the status of persons inside national territory; formulate policies in matters of protection and assistance; act as coordinator with respect to competent state institutions; foster the training of officers responsible for protection and assistance measures to refugees; coordinate exit formalities of refugees due to voluntary repatriation; make decisions with regard to the requests of refugees for family reunification; monitor the application of regulations regarding refugees; and, in general, exercise the functions that are necessary to comply with the objectives destined to ensure the protection of the refugee population in the country.  

The Committee has a secretariat in charge of operationally executing the matters related to refugee status, and to provide it legal and institutional support with the goal to expedite its decision-making process. Furthermore, it co-operates with competent authorities in the field and with the Committee on procedures and competencies empowered to it in accordance with the law.

Procedure to obtain refugee status

The person that invokes verbally or in writing, under oath, refugee status unto migration authorities, may remain temporarily in El Salvador until the Committee makes a decision on the request for refugee status.

The General Office of Migration will request to the National Civil Police, Division of Borders, the custody of persons requesting refuge for a maximum period of 72 hours.

All persons that enjoy the provisional permit granted by the General Office of Migration will be put at the disposal of a partner non-governmental organisation designated in the country by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) for their assistance. While in national territory they will reside at the partner non-governmental organisation.

Once the Committee grants recognition of refugee status, the General Office of Migration will issue to the refugee and every member of their immediate family, the special temporary refugee card, which will be valid in the national territory for a period of one year, and may be renewed for the same period.