Digital Portfolios of the Poor (DPP) seeks to understand gendered differences in the digital lives of the poor, enabling action to close gender gaps in digital financial service access and to design more effective, gender-transformative digital products.

The Journeys Project is a cross-regional collection of migrant stories to better understand the costs and strategies involved in their journeys as well as the economic approaches they use when putting down roots in new surroundings.

The Refugees in Towns (RIT) project examines the main barriers and pathways to integration, with the goal of identifying innovative solutions to the obstacles that refugees, migrants, and hosts face.

Disrupted Mobilities, inspired by the 2020 documentary Waylaid in Tijuana, explores the local impacts of a fortified U.S.-Mexico border and how migrants journeying through Central America and Mexico assess risk and process information regarding entry into the U.S.

PHUSID is a skills-building initiative based on the Inner Development Goals (IDGs) to better prepare students to work effectively and sustainably in violent or fragile contexts. The Leir Institute is a designated IDG Hub.

The Corruption, Justice, and Legitimacy Program is a research-to-practice initiative committed to improving the effectiveness of anti-corruption programming in contexts of endemic corruption.

Latest Updates

  • The Refugees in Towns Project at the Henry J. Leir Institute for Migration & Human Security presented its 3rd annual convening on April 14, 2023. The Race and Migration Symposium draws on RiT’s ongoing research with the Hello Neighbor Network focused on assessing how refugees come to understand and experience race in the U.S. View the program here and watch the panel recordings below. Opening Remarks & Research Partners Spotlight: Hello Neighbor Network & Dwell Mobile Research, Race, & Resettlement: A Presentation of Research Findings & Open Immigrant Dialogue Research Spotlight: Dr. Helen B. Marrow on Racial Socialization of New Immigrants in the U.S. Policy, Practice, and Prejudice: A Discussion of Racialized Immigration Policies & Paving a Path Forward

  • By Gilberto Calderin A U.S. embargo against Cuba has been in place for nearly sixty years, restricting the flow of goods to the island. The U.S. government prohibits American companies from doing business with Cuba, and U.S. laws penalize foreign companies. The restrictions are intended to squeeze Cuba financially and generate discontent to force the ruling Communist Party to reform or step down. After half a century, the embargo has failed to achieve these goals.  A decade ago, President Obama tried to change course. He eased sanctions, opened direct flights, and relaxed restrictions on American business in Cuba. This policy was popular with Americans, but President Trump reversed course immediately after taking office. He barred Americans from sending remittances to their relatives in Cuba, cut off travel between the two countries, and placed Cuba on the U.S. list of state sponsors of international terrorism. Trump’s actions ended any opportunity to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba.  On the campaign trail, Joe Biden promised to move away from Trump’s hardline stance on Cuba. So far, he has delivered, eliminating the limit on family remittances, expanding the number of flights to Cuba, and increasing staff at the Havana embassy to process visas. Although this move has been unpopular with conservative Cuban-Americans, President Biden should not allow a hardline minority in South Florida to dictate America’s foreign policy.  Following the July 11, 2021 mass protests, the largest in thirty years, renewed debate on lifting the embargo. The demonstrations were triggered mainly by food and medicine shortages. Cuban American activists and Republicans urged President Biden to increase pressure on Cuba. In contrast, Democrats were divided on the issue.  Ending the embargo is the best way to help the Cuban people. Opponents claim that current restrictions hit the regime, but the embargo has crippled the Cuban economy and hurt the people it claims to help. The United Nations estimates the blockade has cost the Cuban economy $130 billion over six decades. Because of this policy, Cuba’s quality of life is poor. Imagine waiting in line for hours at the supermarket to find most shelves bare. Unable to feed your family and constantly rely on your neighbors for food scraps to get by. For Cubans, daily life means living with shortages of food and other essential goods. Hardliners argue that harsh economic sanctions are necessary to undermine the communist regime. They point to the unprecedented levels of protest as evidence. The Cuban people are angry and tired of their misery. However, after sixty years of sanctions, there is no sign that the regime is in danger. The communist government uses the embargo to shift blame for the country’s economic hardships.   Ending the embargo and improving closer ties between the U.S. and Cuba will help promote American values, such as free enterprise, freedom of speech, and other fundamental democratic ideals. More contact with Americans will expose Cubans to the freedom and opportunities they have lacked for decades. They will yearn for change and pressure their government to shift away from Soviet-style economic policies and political repression.  Fully ending the embargo will require Congress’s approval. But there is much more the Biden administration can do on its own. First, the U.S. should remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Second, the U.S. should allow Americans to travel freely to Cuba. Let Americans spend their cash on small, privately owned businesses in Cuba to empower them financially. Third, the U.S. should increase financial support for independent Cuban entrepreneurs, for example, by helping them access the internet, financing, and training. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union thirty years ago, Cuba is no longer a threat to the United States. The embargo is a Cold War relic and must be ended. The U.S. can ease restrictions while holding the Cuban government accountable for its egregious human rights record. Continuing to inflict pain on the Cuban people has not and will not work. It is time to chart a new course. Removing the embargo will open up Cuba’s economy and prove the superiority of a market system by stimulating the economic growth needed to lift Cubans out of poverty.

  • By Chidi Anselm Odinkalu Affiliated faculty Chidi Anselm Odinkalu recently published “Article III of the OAU Refugee Convention in Context: the Emergence of Subversion in the African Inter-State System” in Refugee Survey Quarterly. On the face of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, the refugee problem in Africa is explicitly a multi-dimensional humanitarian, political, and security challenge. Linking the problem of refugees in Africa to the challenge of coexistence among then newly independent African States, Article III of the OAU Convention prohibits subversion by refugees. This study examines the evolution of this prohibition in the context of the history of post-colonial transition and authoritarianism which birthed it, and whose consequences are far from extinguished; suggesting that this context provides greater clarity to the scope and function of the prohibition as an obligation founded in a duty of friendly relations owed by African states to one another. Despite this, the language of the prohibition in the OAU Convention nevertheless lends it to sovereign self-help in a global context of rising authoritarian rule. Read the Article

  • By Dyan Mazurana, Anastasia Marshak, and Kinsey Spears Affiliated faculty Dr. Dyan Mazurana, who directs the Feinstein International Center’s Research Program on Women, Children and Armed Conflict, co-authored with Dr. Anastasia Marshak and Fletcher PhD candidate Kinsey Spears “Sex, age (and more) still matter: Data collection, analysis, and use in humanitarian practice”, published in collaboration with UN Women and CARE. The report assesses the impact of the landmark report on sex-, age-, and disability disaggregated data (SADD) published a decade ago and offers new recommendations to realize the collection and use of such data. “The humanitarian community has come a long way since the first Sex and Age Matter report was published in 2011. In the new report, we show how that progress has been uneven. The collection and analysis of sex-, age, and disability disaggregated data do not consistently inform programming and require further commitment and investment.” Read the Report

Upcoming Events

There are no upcoming events at this time.


  • Introducing the Leir Briefing Room Migration and human security, simplified.  3-minute briefs authored by the Fletcher School’s expert faculty. Key terms and data essential to our work. For clear, concise content, start here. The Leir Briefing Room is an information clearinghouse on the foundational topics in migration and human security, including root causes. Populated by our expert affiliated faculty, it serves as a trusted source of information that contextualizes the challenges and opportunities policymakers and practitioners face. We look forward to continually updating this clearinghouse with timely and relevant terms, briefs, and data. 

  • Leir Migration Monitor February 2023 As the U.S. celebrates Black Legacy Month, we are reminded of the enduring legal, political, and cultural battles for equality that Black Americans and immigrants of color face. Those battles are as different as they are alike–at times overlapping, often running parallel to one another, and occasionally, contradictory. As our featured research this month shows, even refugees of color in the U.S. are not immune to racist attitudes. And in South Africa, the “rainbow nation” and land of “ubuntu,” legal regimes and cultural attitudes have reinforced xenophobic policies. This month, we explore how conceptions of race impact immigrants’ lived experience, an area of inquiry that Leir is committed to exploring in the long-term. In this edition: Case Reports: Race and Refugees in Mobile, AL and Pittsburgh, PAZimbabwe Exemption Permits: Artists express hopes, anxieties as court case, end of grace period loomFaculty Spotlight: Dr. Karen Jacobsen, Henry J. Leir Professor in Global MigrationCBP One: racially-biased tech further limits U.S. asylum claimsLiterature Review: How do refugees in the U.S. learn about race? Let us know topics you would like future editions to explore. Read Full Newsletter Subscribe Case Reports: Race and refugees in Mobile, Pittsburgh Case Reports: Race and refugees in Mobile, PittsburghThe Refugees in Towns project is pleased to publish two new case reports as part of its Race and Refugees research program: Mobile, Alabama, USA and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Both reports explore the historical, cultural, and political contexts in addition to the lived experiences of refugees grappling with the U.S. construction of race. Research assistants Lucy Mastellar, Yumeka Kawahara, and Charlie Williams conducted the research between June-August 2022. Their reports, conducted in partnership with the Hello Neighbor Network, have informed a second phase of research which seeks to create community-developed, anti-racist interventions to better educate and support refugees as they are resettled in the U.S. Both reports have been adapted into StoryMaps, allowing readers to interactively explore Mobile and Pittsburgh while showcasing RIT’s reflexive and localized methodology.  Read the Reports Zimbabwe Exemption Permits: Artists express hopes, anxieties as court case, end of grace period loom Originally published in September 2022, Barnabas Ticha Muvhuti’s reflection on the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits’ (ZEP) cancellation unfortunately remains relevant. In it, he writes: “…I deeply regret that I moved to an African country that treats Africans worse than do the former colonial powers. Most of my friends are now permanent residents or citizens of these countries, while I am holding one restrictive permit after another.” Shortly after publication and in the wake of increasing criticism, the South African government extended ZEP permit holders’ grace period by six months to June 2023. Now, as a court challenge to the cancellation is scheduled to begin in April and the end of the grace period looms, ZEP permit holders’ hopes and anxieties reach their zenith. RIT commissioned two Zimbabwean artists living in South Africa–illustrator Wynona Mutisi and poet Oswald Kucherera–to express these sentiments in their preferred works. Their works accompany Barnabas’s reflection in the StoryMap below. View the StoryMap Read Full Newsletter Subscribe

  • Leir Migration Monitor January 2023 This month, we take a look back at some of our 2022 highlights and look forward to our 2023 plans, starting with our new program. Whether directly related to migration or not, our programs and research move us closer to a world where migration is a choice, and all are able to live free from fear and free from want. This year, we look forward to offering new tools that help policymakers and practitioners achieve this vision. In this edition: Announcing our new program, Hopes, Fears, and IllusionsConversations with Recent Immigrants to the U.S. from Puebla, MexicoFaculty Spotlight: Leir Director Dr. Katrina Burgess, Leir DirectorWatch: Digital Portfolios of the Poor Launch WebinarCorruption in Fragile States Blog’s Best of 2022Career Opportunities Spotlight: Mayors Migration Council Read Full Newsletter Subscribe Introducing our new program: Hopes, Fears, & Illusions We’re pleased to announce our new program, Hopes, Fears, and Illusions: How Migrants Assess Risk and Process Information on their Journey to El Norte. Dr. Katrina Burgess and Senior Fellow Dr. Kim Howe serve as principal investigators. The program seeks to gain a more systematic and rigorous understanding of what informs the hopes and fears of migrants regarding their prospects for entering the United States as they journey north through Central America and Mexico. The program will address two major gaps in our knowledge:          1. What information migrants get from where; and          2. How migrants interpret and then act on this information.Through ethnographic research at migrant shelters in Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico, we will gather data directly from migrants on the move while testing and refining methodologies for conducting trauma-informed research with vulnerable populations.Our results will be a key first step toward developing a more empirically robust and humane foundation for U.S. asylum and border policies, which are currently failing at their stated objectives while causing unnecessary human suffering. Coyotes, Tandas, and a Quest for Closure: Conversations with Recent Immigrants to the U.S. from Puebla, Mexico For the vast majority of Mexicans wishing to immigrate to the United States, being sponsored by a qualifying relative is not possible. Even for those who are eligible, waitlists to receive a visa can stretch for years if not decades. Facing this impediment, often in addition to other obstacles to legal immigration, many Mexican immigrants decide to immigrate instead by using the services of a smuggler, or coyote. In his capstone thesis, alumnus Anargiros Z. Frangos (F22) explores the journey of 15 migrants from Puebla, Mexico to New Rochelle, New York, many of whom used coyotes. Frangos uncovers that: Participants are motivated to migrate because of wage differentials, endemic corruption, and violence in Mexico. Crossing the border with a coyote is highly organized and relatively low cost. Once settled, participants are working, paying taxes, and saving money with Rotating Savings and Credit Associations (tandas in Mexican communities) in the hope of obtaining amnesty. Read Full Newsletter Subscribe

  • To our alumni and friends,  I write to you a few days after International Migrants Day from the renamed Henry J. Leir Institute for Migration and Human Security, a new identity that reflects our approach to developing more equitable and sustainable responses to migration and its root causes using a human security lens. Over the past four months, we have completed our rebrand with a refreshed website and a new monthly newsletter, the Leir Migration Monitor, as well as refocused programming and engagement with our constituencies.  We have also expanded the Leir community at Fletcher. We welcomed three new affiliated faculty: Carlos Alvarado Quesada, Professor of Practice of Diplomacy and former President of Costa Rica; Alnoor Ebrahim, Professor of Management; and, Chidi Odinkalu, Professor of Practice in International Human Rights Law. We also welcomed a new Senior Fellow: Samer Saliba, Head of Practice at the Mayors Migration Council. Each will bring important perspectives and an expanded network of practitioners and policymakers who share our vision. Meanwhile, political and policy developments around the globe have underscored the need for our new approach: the nearly 16 million Ukrainians displaced by war; controversy surrounding Qatar’s treatment of millions of migrant workers ahead of the 2022 World Cup; South Africa’s ongoing efforts to expel hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwean permitholders; continued migratory pressures in the Americas; and the use of migrant busing as political theater by U.S. governors. Whether directly related to migration or not, our applied research aims to achieve a world where migration is a choice. Achieving that vision means creating real opportunities in communities of origin and settlement while protecting migrants on the move, thereby ensuring that everyone can meet their needs and reach their potential. Summer field research carried out by Fletcher students for the Journeys Project and Refugees in Towns served as proof of concept for this new vision. We also publicly launched our newest program, Digital Portfolios of the Poor (DPP), which seeks to understand the gendered differences in digital usage and philosophies among the poor in order to create new gender-transformative digital products. DPP is a prime example of our approach. While the project does not address migration directly, its insights about whether and how the poor, especially women, mobilize digital technologies for social inclusion can – and should – inform efforts to enhance people’s option not to migrate. Moreover, the tech-led methodology developed by our research partner, Decodis, and tested at scale in DPP has enormous potential for reaching people on the move, who are notoriously difficult to study. And, finally, DPP is providing hands-on training for five Fletcher research assistants who each bring their own regional or technical expertise. DPP’s interdisciplinary, people-centered, and prevention-focused orientation is precisely what a human security approach intends to achieve. In the spring, we look forward to new opportunities to engage our network, including:  Monthly editions of the Leir Migration Monitor, featuring research and analysis from our people and programs; Refugees in Towns’ Race in Migration Symposium, co-hosted by Tisch College and featuring the Hello Neighbor Network; Formation of an Alumni Advisory Group to provide opportunities for alumni working in related fields to engage with Fletcher students, lend their expertise to Leir projects and programming, and offer strategic advice on Leir fundraising; and,The launch of new research and tools for policymakers and practitioners. With a just-announced Tufts Springboard grant, we will also be launching a new project entitled Hopes, Fears, and Illusions: How Migrants Assess Risk and Process Information on their Journey to El Norte, to be led by me and Leir Senior Fellow, Dr. Kim Howe. Stay tuned for more details as we develop our research protocol and assemble our research team over the next few months. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have ideas, concerns, or questions. As always, we welcome your ideas, feedback, and financial support as we continue this important work.   Wishing you a healthy and joyful holiday season,  Katrina Burgess Director, Henry J. Leir Institute for Migration and Human Security  Read More

Leir Briefing Room

Migration and human security, simplified. 3-minute briefs written by the Fletcher School's expert faculty. For clear, concise foundational content, start here.