Life after deportation: Repatriation, Risk and Resilience among asylum-seekers and migrant families in Guatemala and Mexico (L.I.F.E)

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Education, Practice & Society


This project examines the effects of US immigration policies on asylum-seekers and transit migrants who have been forcibly returned to Mexico and Guatemala as a result of new third country asylum processing agreements. It explores how they and their families experience risk and insecurity during this process, and also how they may develop coping mechanisms to mitigate these stressful situations. Crucially, it investigates the evolving asylum processing and receiving context in Mexico and Guatemala and interrogates claims that these states are 'safe third countries' for asylum-seekers who wish to come to the USA. It draws upon our previous work on the ways in which asylum governance and the infrastructure for humanitarian protection have been sub-contracted to neighbouring states and uses the insights gained from those studies to inform an investigation into the risks faced by asylum-seeking families and deported migrants in Guatemala and Mexico. Our ambition is for this first stage project to feed into and provide a secure basis for a major follow on research programme in Mexico, Guatemala and the neighbouring states.

This first-phase study , carried out by the international team, will involve a multi-method approach including (i) desk-based research (combining policy analysis with key informant expert interviews); (ii) a series of rapid assessments involving analysis of crime statistics; observations of living conditions in Mexico and Guatemala; interviews with families sent to 'safe' third countries; and a gender impact study. These research activities will investigate the risks for asylum-seeking and migrant families; how families navigate these asylum and immigration systems and structures; and the impact of return on individuals and families; (iii) participatory arts-based research activities with children and young people living in a migrant shelter to better understand the impact of displacement and separation on them; and (iv) a policy synthesis of what has been learned from 'safe country and off-shore processing asylum systems in other global settings. Outputs from the study will include an advocacy tool-kit developed from the testimonies of asylum-seeking and migrant adults and children; a series of public engagement and policy events to share knowledge and learning from the work; and a proposal for a larger international collaborative body of research on migration and asylum governance across the region.

Planned Impact

Who might benefit from this research?

1) Asylum-seekers, transit migrants and their families
Our expressed aim is to use research findings in order to inform asylum and migration policies and improve humanitarian practice in the context of migration by generating knowledge of conditions in the return context and coping strategies deployed by those in limbo; and by sharing this information to benefit asylum-seekers, returned migrants, and their families. While the focus is on present-day asylum seekers in Guatemala and Mexico, the trend in development safe third country agreements and offshore processing is not limited to this region. As we state in the case for support, asylum-seekers detained in Papua New Guinea and on Nauru also face situations of protracted uncertainty; those entrusted with their protection, in addition to the asylum-seekers themselves, can benefit from the comparative insights the project will bring.

2) Other categories of displaced persons
The research will shed light on the effects of displacement on families, social structures, young people and gender norms. It will therefore be of benefit to other groups of displaced people elsewhere.

3) State services, protection agencies and support organisations
The project will identify challenges in the return context and for those working in asylum processing centres on the US/Mexican border. It will also expose opportunities to press for change and highlight resilience through better understanding how migrant people, despite adversity, find ways to navigate systems and structures which are detrimental to their wellbeing . The project will therefore be of considerable value in illuminating the impact and human costs of migration governance policy to the governments of Mexico (federal and state), Guatemala; as well as better informing protection and support services working on behalf of asylum-seeking populations e.g. UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, local chapters of the ICRC.

How might they benefit from this research?

1) Asylum seekers, transit migrants and their families will be given an opportunity to express their voices and present their accounts of displacement, dislocation and forced return. Such opportunities may help to identify coping strategies and enhance their belief in their own agency. The participatory research approach is designed to facilitate just that. Their voices will be further amplified through the public information and advocacy initiatives, using local radio, audio-visual recording, and newsletters. This outreach may serve to strengthen their communities and build new coalitions for change.

2) Other categories of displaced persons may take lessons from the experiences recorded over the course of the research. This includes possibly negative lessons, which may help them to militate for rights-affirming policies, during the design of future policy initiatives; and also positive examples. The research focus on the Hermosillo child migrant shelter in particular may offer useful lessons about the ways in which unaccompanied and separated migrant children and young people face the challenges of displacement and separation.

3) Social service providers need evidence in order to design effective policy and to allocate resources accordingly. The research will provide concrete evidence of ways in which service providers may better engage returned asylum-seekers and also, as a result of the gender and age dis-aggregated approach, how best to target resources and design interventions - whether for displaced women, children, young people, or men


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