From El Salvador to Australia: A 20th century exodus to a promised land


Santos, Beatriz. (2006). From El Salvador to Australia: A 20th century exodus to a promised land [Thesis].
AuthorsSantos, Beatriz
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

El Salvador, the smallest and the most densely populated state in the region of Central America, was gripped by a civil war in the 1980s that resulted in the exodus of more than a million people. This thesis explores the causes that led to the exodus. The thesis is divided into two parts. The first part contains a historical and theoretical analysis of El Salvador from the time of conquest until the 1980s. An examination of the historical background of the socio-economic and political conflict in El Salvador during this period sets the scene for an account of the mass exodus of Salvadorans in the 1980s. The second part of the thesis involves a qualitative study of Salvadoran refugees, which concentrates on their experiences before and after arriving in Australia. The study explores both the reasons for the Salvadorans' becoming refugees and their resettlement in Melbourne. In an effort to explain some of the reasons for the socio-economic and political conflict in El Salvador in the 1980s, some concepts and ideas from different theoretical perspectives are utilized: modernisation theory, world-systems theory, dependency theory, elite theory, Foco theory of revolution and economic rationalism. The historical account covers the period from the expansion of the European world economy in the 16th century up to the political conflict of the 1980s. When the Salvadorans began to arrive in Melbourne, the micro-economic agenda in Australia was based on economic rationalism. This shifted the focus away from the state and onto a market-based approach that emphasised vigorous competition and fore grounded a non-collective social framework. The changes to policies in the welfare and immigration areas resulting from this shift are examined for their impact on the resettlement experiences of Salvadoran refugees. The United States foreign policy is also delineated because of the impact it had on the political, economic and social situation in El Salvador.;The thesis focused on the time-period from the 1823 Monroe Doctrine to the era of the Cold War of 'containment of communism'. The Catholic Church has also played a major influence in the political, social and religious life of Salvadorans. The changes that occurred in the post-1965 renewal of the Catholic Church were influential in the political struggles in El Salvador. The second part of the thesis involves a qualitative research study of a small group of 14 Salvadoran refugees. Participants were selected from different professional, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds. The study examines their flight from El Salvador, their arrival in Australia and their long-term experiences of resettlement. Tracking the experiences of refugees over a considerable period of time has seldom been the focus of a research study in Australia. The Salvadorans have been under-researched and no longitudinal studies have been conducted. The Salvadorans who took part in the study became refugees for diverse reasons ranging from political/religious reasons to random repression but certainly not for economic reasons. Their past experiences have influenced their resettlement in Australia and their attempts to build their lives anew have been fraught with difficulties. The difficulties in acquiring a working knowledge of the English language have often led to a downgrading in their professional and employment qualifications, isolation from the mainstream community and the experience of loneliness for the older generation. In addition, many of the participants still experience fear both in Australia and in their home country when they return for a visit. The findings indicate that the provision of extra services, such as counselling, could facilitate their resettlement and integration into Australian society.

PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research GroupSchool of Arts
Final version
Publication dates01 Jan 2006
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