Why Families Flee: The Flores Family

This post is part of a series about why families flee when they become targets of violence in El Salvador. The whole series is available at cristosal.org/blog

Photo by    Jenna Norman    on    Unsplash

One spring morning, Gabriela Flores heard a knock at the door in Lourdes, La Libertad, El Salvador. When she opened it, she found a man promising free baby clothes. She looked from him to her two-month-old, in the arms of her sister in their living room. Gabriela was young, a new mother, and she wanted to get everything right. Her baby was in desperate need of new clothes. The chance to get them for free was irresistible. She and her sister took the baby and agreed to go with the man.

The next day, the bodies of the two sisters were found, presumably murdered by gang members. The baby had disappeared.

Just days later, the entire extended Flores family—14 people—abandoned their home. Gabriela's grandmother, mother, and three of her nieces and nephews found shelter with a nongovernmental organization. 

A month later, Gabriela's baby was found in the care of a woman who said gang members had brought her the baby without explanation and ordered her to care for it. The following day, that woman was found murdered in her home.

At first, the local District Attorney’s office offered to put the Flores family in the Victim and Witness Protection Program, but they were wary of the program. They'd heard of people in the program being trapped inside for months on end, with little support or consideration for any trauma they had previously undergone.

Later, on the advice of nongovernmental organizations, they decided to enter the program after all. However, the Flores family was then informed that the program could not provide shelter because it did not have space. The were offered only security personnel and food. The government suggested that an NGO or the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office should rent a house for the family. A month after Gabriela was killed, the Flores family was moved to a house for temporary shelter by a humanitarian organization.

To date, the government has still not stepped in to provide shelter or follow through on its promise of security personnel or food. 

Cristosal accompanied the the Flores family in filing a request for protection (amparo) with El Salvador's Supreme Court just months after Gabriela's death. The amparo asserts that the person in charge of the Victim and Witness Protection Program failed to enact certain protection measures specified in the Special Protection Act on Victims and Witnesses.

The Supreme Court of Justice in El Salvador. /  Photo Cristosal

The Supreme Court of Justice in El Salvador. / Photo Cristosal

The amparo also claims that the Special Law on the Protection of Victims and Witnesses, and the program created by it, are limited and insufficient in their ability to guarantee comprehensive protection to victims of violence and forced displacement. The amparo names the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, the Legislative Assembly, the Justice Sector’s Coordinating Commission, and the Executive Technical Unit (UTE) as having failed to issue, create, or promote secondary laws, regulations, policies, programs, or protocols to guarantee the protection of people fleeing violence.

The petition includes a request for protective measures for the family, to provide them with shelter for the duration of the judicial process. The amparo was admitted by the Court. As in other amparos the Court has admitted, preliminary orders were given to ensure the immediate safety and well-being of the Flores family.

Cristosal has filed six amparos in the last year. The cases are being processed, and a final ruling is expected in some of the cases soon. The decisions the Court makes in these cases have the power to not only protect the specific families who filed the amparo, but also to order the creation of laws and programs to protect the hundreds of thousands of people who flee violence in El Salvador every year. Learn more about our amparo cases here

* All names have been changed for security purposes.

Hannah Rose Nelson