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

  • By Dr. Daryl Collins, Derry Moore, Pravarkya Reddy, and Marcia Almeida-Mendes Leir Senior Fellow Dr. Daryl Collins is the CEO and founder of Decodis, a social research firm that creates tech-led, customized data capture and analysis to elevate the voices of vulnerable populations. This brief offers a case study of the innovative, tech-led methods pioneered by Dr. Collins which are currently used in the Digital Portfolios of the Poor program, co-led by the Leir Institute and Decodis. As social science researchers, we seek to understand human behavior and interactions. However, the act of studying people itself is an engagement be- tween two people and there is a small but growing literature on interview modes and social acceptance biases. Literature on social acceptance bias draws out some of the limitations of traditional social research interview modes between individuals, with data largely reliant on self-reporting by respondents. The propensity for respondents to represent themselves in a socially acceptable or desirable light potentially hampers the quality of the data elicited. This is especially so, as many papers argue, when researching subjects considered taboo like sexually transmitted diseases, domestic violence, and other sensitive topics in certain sociocultural contexts. For instance, the need for social desirability is said to affect consistency in responses, which in turn affects the quality of the data. Social scientists, especially at the intersection of psychology, have used techniques like ‘cognitive loading’ or the process of ‘giving subjects more to think about or focus on as they perform a task, which therefore occupies some of their cognitive power’ as a means to offset social acceptance bias. This article explores how tools such as Interactive Voice Recording (IVR) could both offer anonymity and reduce the power imbalances brought on by an in-person researcher-respondent dynamic, thus eliciting information free of the limitations posed by social acceptance bias. In this paper, we explore using a form of open-ended, IVR surveys to ask respondents in economic inclusion programs with a gender transformative approach in Paraguay and Colombia about attitudes towards gender issues as a means to not only in- crease our ability as researchers to accurately understand their thoughts, but also to assess whether the program had an effect on a comparison group of women not in the program. Read the Report

  • By Khalid Hussain and Maliha Khan In 2008, Bangladesh’s High Court recognized Bihari refugees’ right to citizenship and requested that their names be added to the voter list as citizens. In doing so, a stateless Urdu-speaking linguistic minority living in refugee camps in the heart of Dhaka city and elsewhere in the country gained citizenship rights 37 years after the war between West and East Pakistan (today Bangladesh) left them stranded. They were no longer refugees, having fought for and won their legal rights largely through the efforts of the community. This case study provides an overview of how the refugee camps in Dhaka came to be and their conditions five decades on, and examines the legal battle from the perspective of one of the authors, who was a member of the Geneva Camp youth group that initiated the case, as well as the barriers that the Urdu-speaking community continues to face in their integration in Dhaka. The Biharis have been identified locally and officially over the years by various labels, such as stranded Pakistanis, non-Bengalis, Biharis, and as Urdu speakers. The 2003 and 2008 judgments by the High Court confirmed their citizenship and officially recognized them as Urdu-speaking Bangladeshis. However, they and their descendants are still referred to colloquially as “Biharis,” and are seen by many as separate from Bangla-speaking citizens. In December 1971, Bengalis in East Pakistan won independence after fighting a nine-month war against the Pakistan army. During the war, much of the Urdu-speaking Bihari community sided with West Pakistan with some directly supporting the Pakistan army in attacks against Bengalis. This, in return, led to violence by Bengalis causing several thousand Bihari deaths, according to community estimates. Many Biharis had their homes and property looted and/or seized and were forced to take refuge in temporary settlements, while other more prominent West Pakistani civilians were evacuated alongside the army. Episodic violence against Biharis continued after the war. Despite steady calls for their repatriation, the Pakistani government denied the minority citizenship and did not facilitate full-scale return after a few repatriation efforts in the subsequent decades. This rendered them essentially stateless and left the Biharis stranded. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) set up Geneva Camp and other settlements developed following the war. Conditions in the camps became increasingly deplorable as the population grew and the camps became “permanent”. Five decades on, living conditions in the camps have only worsened. Approximately 400,000 Urdu-speaking Biharis live in 116 refugee camps across Bangladesh today, with Dhaka city hosting 32 settlements and camps scattered around 12 districts. Geneva Camp, the largest camp in Bangladesh, is in Mohammadpur in central Dhaka. Another large Bihari settlement is in Mirpur, a northern suburb of Dhaka, which is more deprived than Geneva Camp, with fewer economic opportunities for residents. There are also Bihari settlements in major cities such as Chattogram, Khulna, Mymensingh, Rangpur, and Saidpur. The Bangladesh government has repeatedly mentioned efforts to rehabilitate Biharis, particularly with regard to providing housing outside the overcrowded camps, but these have not been implemented. Despite gaining mainstream legal recognition, Biharis have been unable to fully integrate into Bangladeshi society and economy—facing barriers to access legal documentation, education and employment opportunities, and insecure land and housing rights. Socially, they remain marginalized in Bangladesh—primarily due to discrimination based on perceived allegiance to Pakistan during and since the war, memories of which still stir strong sentiment in the country. This case report aims to detail from a firsthand perspective some of the successful advocacy leading to legal rulings which benefited the Urdu-speaking community’s legal standing in Bangladesh as well as highlight continued barriers to integration for residents who have now lived in Geneva Camp in Dhaka city for over five decades. Read the Report

  • By Jean-Benoit Falisse, Senior Lecturer, University of Edinburgh This blog post originally appeared on the Corruption in Fragile States Blog. Subscribe here to receive blog updates via email. Anti-corruption sensitization messages are probably the most ubiquitous of all anti-corruption tools. During anti-corruption campaigns, one can see them everywhere from prime-time TV ads, to billboards, to posters in schools and hospitals. Public servants and public service providers are a prime target: they’re urged to turn down attempted bribes and refrain from misappropriating public goods. But do anti-corruption sensitization messages make any difference at all? It’s a legitimate question. In the last decade or so, a series of studies that cast doubt about digital advertising’s ability to affect shoppers’ behavior has shaken the advertising world, which similarly relies on raising people’s attention to a particular issue through messaging. eBay and Facebook may, in fact, have overestimated the effectiveness of their ads by up to 4,000%. In the world of anti-corruption, many researchers have pointed out that raising awareness to corruption does not necessarily mean many changes in practice (or may even make things worse). Such reckoning, however, has yet to happen among most practitioners. But if practice needs to change, what might it look like? Testing anti-corruption messaging in Burundi Sign from Ministry of Good Governance: Photo: Falisse (2014).” The caption in the banner image isn’t quite right. Let’s have it read as follows: “Lab in the field, Burundi. Photo: Jean-Benoit Falisse In a recently published study, we became interested in a key dimension that may affect the effectiveness of anti-corruption messaging: the interplay between social and moral norms—what is seen as one’s normal and expected social behavior—and corruption. We built on research from different disciplines. In social anthropology, for instance, a growing body of research has stressed the importance of understanding so-called ‘practical norms’ in public service: what is it that constitutes an accepted and acceptable behavior in practice in the first place? In social psychology and behavioral economics, new evidence that moral and behavioral norms differ between social and professional groups has emerged—for instance, the seminal research by Cohn, Fehr, and Marechal showing that bankers were more likely to cheat in a lab game after the experimenter had stressed the participants’ professional identity. In our research, we set up a lab in the field experiment in Burundi. Actual civil servants were asked to react to a scenario where citizens asked them to “provide a service they are not meant to provide against some extra money”—a bribery attempt (as they identified it in later focus groups). The stakes were real: civil servants could make actual money. Burundi was and still is one of the poorest countries on earth, and, by all available metrics, corruption is rampant. “Beyond dangerous clichés on civil service in resource-poor environments, what do we actually know of the social and moral norms that structure daily life in the public service? For practitioners, the implication is clear: before launching a campaign, define target groups and carefully understand and document their day-to-day realities.“ Our preliminary research had found that, despite those adverse circumstances, civil servants generally viewed bribery as inconsistent with their professional values—this was especially true for teachers and court clerks, slightly less so for the police. We are far from the only ones to make that point but it bears reiteration: anti-corruption practitioners should not conflate widespread corruption with widespread acceptance of corruption. Would anti-corruption messages make any difference? Before answering this question, we had to think carefully. Many anti-corruption messages are generic: they describe corruption as something bad, immoral, or with dire consequences. Subscribe here to receive the Corruption in Fragile State Blog’s posts. We publish every three weeks—enough to keep you informed without cluttering your inboxes. Anti-corruption practitioners should, however, think twice about which messages to display. Indeed, research shows that the framing of sensitization messages matters: in a lab experiment, asking participants “not to cheat” was found less effective than asking them “not to be cheaters.” The likely underlying mechanism, as the researchers explained, is that the second message speaks to one’s “implication of the self.” In societies where cheating is considered amoral, very few want to see themselves as cheaters deep inside. In our lab in the field, we decided to expose a portion of our participants to two written anti-sensitization messages (in the national language, Kirundi): one was framed in general terms “good governance is the pillar of an equitable and uncorrupted society” and the other one appealed to professional norms “a real public servant is equitable and incorruptible.” As anticipated, only the second message had some effect on the participants’ behavior. But what is it exactly in the behavior of the participants that changed? “Anti-corruption practitioners should not conflate widespread corruption with widespread acceptance of corruption.” Our scenario did not imply reciprocity; civil servants could pocket the bribe without being forced to provide the service to the briber. This is precisely what happened: exposure to the message did not affect the civil servants’ propensity to take the bribe. It did, however, make them keener to deny the request of the briber and, instead, treat them as an ordinary citizen who hadn’t attempted to bribe them. Practitioners may want to think through this case, and how it compares to the situations they confront. Would they see their anti-corruption campaigns as successful if they ‘only’ made public services fairer from the perspective of users, but did not necessarily curb illicit payments? Which is most important? Rethinking anti-corruption sensitization These findings suggest two key action points for policymakers and anti-corruption practitioners. 1. The exact framing and wording of anti-corruption messages matters. A message appealing to one’s “implication of the self within society” might be more effective than a broad descriptive message—this resonates with work on injunctive versus descriptive norms that Mattias Agerberg recently presented on this blog. There is no one size fits all: crafting a good message requires a good understanding of the norms and values of the target group and brings

  • By Carlos Alvarado Quesada, Former President of Costa Rica, The Hill Opinion Contributor, and Professor of the Practice Despite celebrating its positive strides on issues as important as the climate crisis and effective multilateralism, I am deeply troubled by the Biden administration’s latest proposal to limit access to asylum. A decision seemingly born of an electoral calculus, it neither benefits the United States nor its relationship with countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean at what should be a time of unrivaled opportunity despite very real challenges.

  • By Avery Closser Have you ever been in a rest stop or airport bathroom and noticed a subtle flyer taped to the back of the door that reads: “GET HELP. If you are a victim of human trafficking, call this number”? If you identify as a woman, then your answer is probably yes. If you are a man, you might have a different answer. Victims of human trafficking are often transported along the same trade routes as other commodities, both licit and illicit ones, which is why these hotline numbers are posted along popular travel routes. It may seem unlikely, though, to find a trafficking victim in a rest-stop bathroom. We might wonder, wouldn’t their abductor be more careful than to take them somewhere in public? Or wouldn’t it be obvious to us that they were in trouble? The answer to both questions is no. Human trafficking, or modern slavery as it is often called, is highly pervasive and invisible. It is extremely difficult to detect and monitor, and most traffickers carry on with impunity. Human trafficking awareness campaigns are often trumped by pop culture depictions, like in the 2009 film Taken, which portrays a father, played by Liam Neeson, rescuing his daughter from an international organized crime group attempting to sell her into a sex trafficking ring. Another prominent example is the recent sensational case of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, both of whom were convicted for trafficking minors for sex.  While this case underscores many features of human trafficking, (including proving that women can be responsible for trafficking other women, contrary to popular belief) it is highly unlike the vast majority of trafficking schemes. It is crucial to understand the enormity and complexity of these crimes to begin to conceptualize how to put an end to them.

Upcoming Events

  1. A Conversation with Joy Olson, former Executive Director of the Washington Office on Latin America

    March 29 @ 5:45 pm - 7:00 pm
  2. Refugees in Towns Race and Migration Symposium

    April 14 @ 10:00 am - 3:30 pm


  • 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 Migration Monitor November/December 2022 Too often, migrants and refugees are presented as victims of persecution or passive recipients of aid and refuge. Research rarely investigates or emphasizes their agency and advocacy groups, whether intentionally or not, often propagate narratives of helplessness and saviorism. How might practitioners’ and policymakers’ work change if migrants and refugees are seen and depicted as active participants in their own lives? This month, we highlight research, people, and programs that seek to answer that question. In this edition: Report: How do refugees in the United States learn about race?Migrants’ Financial Archetypes: tailored approaches to financial health for practitionersWaylaid in Tijuana underscores human costs of restrictive border policiesSenior Fellow Profile: Samer Saliba, Head of Practice, Mayor’s Migration CouncilThe Medellín Model: how cities can use housing to help migrants shape their own future Read Full Newsletter Subscribe How do refugees in the United States learn about race? For many Americans, discussing race is a sticky subject. The Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements in 2020 thrust conversations about race into national and international spheres, prompting conversations that many avoid and find uncomfortable. The movements underscored the need for education about America’s racial history, unconscious bias, and the ways in which we can collectively build an anti-racist society. Now imagine you’re a newly-arrived migrant or refugee, unfamiliar with your new community, immersed in a new language and culture. How do you learn about, discuss, and experience race in the American context? The Refugees in Towns Project is proud to release preliminary findings from its latest project, Assessing Refugees’ Understanding of and Responses to American Race Relations. The study found that refugees learned about U.S. race relations through school, media (digital and print), word of mouth, and personal experiences of discrimination. However, the degree of this learning is heavily dependent on education level, age, and country of origin. It was conducted with the Hello Neighbor Network, placing Fletcher researchers with two refugee service providers: Hello Neighbor in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Dwell Mobile in Mobile, Alabama. Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life provided financial and technical support. Learn more about how RIT will engage refugees and practitioners to co-create anti-racist programming in Tufts Now’s recent article. Read Full Newsletter Subscribe