On 30 March 2022, the Civil Court of Rome upheld the appeal from a decision of the Italian Territorial Commission and recognised the refugee status of a Salvadorean national. In line with UNHCR Eligibility Guidelines for Assessing the International Protection Needs of Asylum-Seekers from El Salvador, the Court acknowledged that relatives of gang members are also exposed to risks to their safety and should be entitled to seek asylum.
Consequently, the Court of Rome acknowledged that family membership is an important element to consider when assessing international protection in gang-related asylum claims, especially in a country such as El Salvador where organised criminal groups de facto control more than 90% of the territory. In these cases, the situation (for example political opinion, gang opposition or gang membership) of a family member could be attributed to the rest of the family and increase their exposition to harm, even if the imputed views are not personally shared. Consequently, the affiliation of one or several family members in organised criminal groups can lead to suspicion for all the family.
In the case at hand, in line with the ACCORD query response on El Salvador, the ruling affirmed that the mere return after fleeing the country increases the risk of revenge as this movement would be regarded as a direct ‘anti-gang’ act. The Italian Court considered that even though the person who created the major threat to the applicant was under arrest, this reason was not sufficient to disregard her claim. Firstly, the threat could still be executed by other members of the same gang. Additionally, referring to several reports and information from the EUAA, the Court of Rome asserted that the police forces are not able to offer sufficient protection to those citizens that are threatened by criminal gangs; and it is documented that the judiciary system is especially inefficient and corrupted, which increases the impunity for criminals in El Salvador and does not offer any guarantee for the applicant that the threat is over.
Furthermore, the ruling highlighted that the fact of being a female applicant poses a higher and more qualified risk as criminal gangs target women to force them into sexual slavery as a threat and weapon to force other family members to participate in illegal activities. For these reasons, the Civil Court of Rome decided to uphold the appeal of the applicant and recognise her refugee status.
Based on an unofficial translation from within the EWLU team.