At least 138 Salvadorans have been killed after being deported back to El Salvador by the government of the United States, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.
This figure is just the official tally of cases identified by researchers, but they believe that the actual total is higher.
In addition to those killed, the report identified cases of individuals being subjected to other harm upon their return to El Salvador, including sexual violence and beatings.
Asylum seeking systems exist to establish protection for people who are looking for protection from war, sexual violence, the effects of climate change, extreme poverty, and more. There were about 3.5 million asylum seekers globally by the end of 2018, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
The report found a “clear link” in the cases it investigated between the death or harm faced by returnees and their reasons for leaving El Salvador in the first place.
In one case, a boy identified as a Javier B. originally fled gang recruitment in 2010. He was denied asylum, deported after living in the US for about seven years, and then killed at the hands of an MS-13 gang member in El Salvador.
In another case, a woman identified as Angelina N. fled domestic abuse in 2014. She was apprehended at the border, deported, and subjected to sexual violence by the same man she had fled upon her return home.
El Salvador has one of the highest rates of murder and sexual violence in the world, according to the Guardian. Gang violence is rampant in the country, with approximately 60,000 of about 6 million people in the country believed to be members of a street gang.
The US, in many of these cases, knows or should know the dangers Salvadorans face after deportation, the report said.
“US authorities have knowingly put Salvadorans in harm’s way by sending them to face murder and attacks on their safety,” Alison Parker, co-author of the report and managing director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch said in a press release. “Salvadorans are facing murder, rape, and other violence after deportation in shockingly high numbers, while the US government narrows Salvadorans’ access to asylum and turns a blind eye to the deadly results of its callous policies,” she said.
From 2012 to 2017, the number of Salvadorans attempting to claim asylum in the US grew by nearly 100%, the report said, to over 60,000 claimants. By 2018, over 100,000 Salvadorans had pending asylum applications in the US, the largest of any nationality.
However, the US recognized only 18.2% of Salvadorans’ claims for asylum from 2014 to 2018, compared to Mexico recognizing 36.5% of claims for asylum.
The Trump administration has sought to make it harder to seek asylum in the US, the report noted, through policies such as limiting the number of people processed each day at official border crossings, separating families at the border, denying asylum seekers legal assistance, and limiting the scope for legitimate asylum cases.
The report called on the US government to reform its approach to asylum claimants and more closely consider the severity of the circumstances that would force migrants to flee from their home countries, as well as the dangers they would face if they were to return.
It also made specific policy recommendations, such as calling on the Trump administration to repeal its asylum bans and for Congress to withhold funding for agencies that mistreat migrants or make the asylum application process more difficult.