History of immigration from El Salvador

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Map of El Salvador
Map date: 2013
The first significant intake of immigrants from El Salvador only occurred in 1983, with the arrival of 75 refugees under the Special Humanitarian Program.

During the 1970s the people of El Salvador suffered landlessness, poverty and high unemployment. Popular organisations and guerrilla groups were established in the hope of achieving social justice. Civil war broke out in 1981, with the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación (National Liberation Front) leading the left wing against the Government, whose death squads violently suppressed those suspected of opposing their regime. Between 1983 and 1986 Australia accepted a further 1,200 Salvadorans under the Special Humanitarian Program.

Immigrants from El Salvador were not counted in the census until 1986. The El Salvdador-born population in Victoria at the time was 1,111. Five years later the population had almost tripled to 3,114. It then stabilized, reflecting the improvement in conditions in El Salvador with the signing of a United Nations-brokered peace deal in 1992.

Today there are 3,142 El Salvador-born immigrants in Victoria, the majority of whom associate themselves with the broader Spanish-speaking community. Organisations such as the Salvadorean Community Council of Victoria support the Salvadoran community, by promoting their cultural heritage and providing advice and advocacy.

The El Salvador-born community live predominantly in Melbourne’s outer west and south east. Census data records that 25% work in managerial or professional roles. A further 15% work in production, transport and trades. Many immigrants from El Salvador are skilled workers, but their lack of English has forced them to take unskilled jobs. Over 90% still speak Spanish at home, and the majority are Catholic.

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