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Painting the full picture: Persistent data gaps on internal displacement associated with violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras

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Available data indicates that significant internal displacement takes place in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. There is no comprehensive database or coordinated data collection that allows us to determine the full scope of the phenomenon in the region, but small pockets of data collected by humanitarian agencies, human rights groups, academia, statistics institutions, national disaster management agencies and media outlets suggest that internal displacement in the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA) is a serious and growing issue.

Several initiatives by civil society groups and academia, in cooperation with UN agencies and former and current Special Rapporteurs on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons; and in some cases governments, have contributed significantly to understanding the causes, impacts and patterns of internal displacement in the region. This research reveals that targeted, generalised and structural violence, conflicts over land, natural hazards aggravated by large-scale development projects and climate change, and a lack of effective state responses all contribute to the phenomenon.

These initiatives have made enormous contributions to raising awareness on internal displacement and beginning to understand the phenomenon. However, substantial challenges remain and there are still a number of significant data gaps that prevent full understanding of the phenomenon and its magnitude. As lamented by civil society and other stakeholders in the region, and reported by the former Special Rapporteur on IDPs following his mission to Honduras, there are “numerous challenges that persist with regard to data, research and gaining a full picture of the internal displacement situation and dynamics, including where internally displaced persons are located, their needs and protection issues”. There is no systematic data collection on displacement, which limits our capacity to understand the scale of the phenomenon, and where to invest resources to gauge whether initiatives to address and prevent internal displacement are working. The lack of data also impedes full understanding and visibility of the drivers and other factors that influence displacement associated with violence in the NTCA, the dynamics of multiple displacements and the links between internal displacement, cross-border movements and irregular migration.
Based on in-depth interviews with stakeholders in the NTCA and an analysis of existing data, this report provides an overview of current data collection efforts and how to make improvements. It first discusses the relevance of collecting and analysing data on internal displacement and the metrics necessary to fully understand the phenomenon. It then describes the current data situation in the region, highlighting gaps and breaking down the main challenges. It concludes with a set of recommendations to improve data collection and fill the gaps identified.