Latest Updates

  • Hopes, Fears, and Illusions: Notes from the Field By Dr. Kimberly Howe, Co-Principal Investigator, and Shenandoah Cornish, Project Manager Introduction We intentionally designed the Hopes, Fears, and Illusions (HFI) research project with a trauma-informed approach that considers the psychological risks and well-being of the researcher as well as the research participant. This approach aims to improve the way researchers interact with vulnerable populations and sensitive research contexts. We felt that such an approach was ethically necessary given HFI’s focus on the journey of migrants, their reasons for leaving home, their experiences along the way, and their hopes for the future. On the migrant-side, we developed research tools and methodologies that encouraged a genuine exchange between participants and researchers while also trying to mitigate the possibility of re-traumatization. On the researcher-side, we thought carefully about the risks and well-being of the researchers, who would be spending six weeks living in demanding conditions, listening to difficult narratives, and witnessing the suffering of others. HFI Colombia researchers Laura Velez Colorado and Andrew Fitzgerald, accompanied by co-Principal Investigator Dr. Kimberly Howe. In this entry, we will share some insights from our approach, shedding light on the importance of such methodologies in navigating the challenging terrain of migrant experiences. Understanding Trauma-Informed Research Trauma-informed research extends beyond the conventional boundaries of inquiry, recognizing the intricate interplay between researchers and the researched. Drawing inspiration from feminist research principles, the approach encourages the researcher to be reflexive and aware of power dynamics. It relies on a set of skills whereby researchers understand the risk of (re)traumatization and are ready to mitigate such risks prior to data collection, during interviews, and in the aftermath. Trauma-informed research also recognizes the emotional toll that such work can take on researchers, underscoring that self-care is the responsibility not just of the researchers but also of the institutions with which they are working. The foundation of trauma-informed research lies in creating a safe, respectful, and empowering environment for all involved. Integrating Trauma-Informed Methods into the HFI Project In the context of HFI, we worked to implement trauma-informed practices as much as possible, while keeping in mind that doing so is a highly context-specific moving target. A trauma-informed approach lays the groundwork for ethical and nuanced research long before researchers step into the field. It begins with thoughtful and empathetic formulation of research questions, tools, and approaches and compels us to question not only what we seek to discover, but why such an inquiry is necessary, and how such inquiries should be framed. This involves a conscious consideration of the potential impacts of questions on the well-being of participants. To this end, we prioritized open-ended queries, acknowledging the diversity of experiences and allowing individuals to share their narratives on their terms. By contemplating the implications of our inquiries, we strove to foster an environment that respected the autonomy and agency of those who choose to share their stories. We held two training sessions for our researchers that discussed the following points: Interview Choices: This included physical considerations emphasizing participant comfort and attending to non-verbal cues; framing techniques prioritizing human connection, active listening, and validation of participant experiences; and providing choices and opportunities for participants to exercise agency.Ethical considerations: We had lengthy discussions on representation, questioning how interlocutors are portrayed in research and its potential impact on their lives;  positionality, reflecting on researcher biases, worldviews, and power dynamics in interactions; and the importance of transparent communication to establish trust.What It Means to be a Trauma-Informed Researcher: We explained what traumatic experiences are and their far-reaching impacts on individuals. We discussed how traumatic responses may be invisible to researchers, while underscoring the importance of recognizing distress when it arises. We also identified skills and interviewing techniques that could be utilized during interviews that might mitigate the risk of re-traumatization.Context-Aware Research: We explored options for tailoring HFI to each of the contexts where the project was located, acknowledging the specificity of each setting and adjusting methodologies accordingly; and we encouraged researchers to adapt to unexpected situations and regularly reflect on their approaches. The HFI fieldwork also included multiple support strategies for researchers. Prior to leaving for the field, researchers received institutional supports that included security plans tailored for each field site and the development and incorporation of detailed self-care plans for researchers. They also participated in discussions about individual self-care strategies, including how to recognize warning signs early on and establish coping mechanisms. We emphasized the importance of setting boundaries, establishing field allies and empathy partners, and taking time each day to “recharge.” We encouraged researchers to think ahead of time about what tends to go by the wayside when they are overwhelmed (exercise, diet, sleep, etc.) and to set up plans to recognize such signs in advance and develop strategies to manage these eventualities.During the field work, we provided team support plans that included internal debriefs between each research pair, weekly team meetings, and bi-weekly cross-team sessions to ensure diverse perspectives and insights. In addition, we partnered with local organizations to host the researchers and provide additional support as needed, and the PIs (or a local faculty advisor) visited the researchers at each site during the first phase of the field work. Lastly, as part of our trauma-informed research process, we created a series of feedback sessions in various modalities (group, individual, written form), for researchers to provide reflective feedback on their experiences at all stages of the project.   Reflections Several key takeaways emerged from these feedback sessions. HFI researchers noted that the pre-research trainings exposed them to topics (mental health and self-care) that they had not considered previously as part of research or fieldwork, although they wished they had had additional trainings prior to data collection and a refresher during the beginning phase of their fieldwork. Researchers also noted the positive impacts of having had a partner in their research sites (as opposed to being solo), but would have benefited from more in-person team building sessions before beginning research. There was also an

  • by Makélé Saïdi, JD, MA In summer 2023, with support from the Leir Institute and the Center for International Environment & Resource Policy (CIERP), Saïdi conducted fieldwork examining the links between climate change, environmental degradation, and human mobility in Rwanda. This report details her findings and offers recommendations for policymakers to address climate-induced migration. 1.   Executive Summary The world is grappling with one of its greatest challenges in addressing human-induced climate change and sustaining efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels. The impact of climate change on environmental degradation, intensifying heatwaves, floods, and other disasters is exacerbating economic and social vulnerabilities of communities around the world – particularly for those already disadvantaged. Some countries are facing multiple threats alongside the climate crisis, as they are already impacted by issues including poverty, food insecurity, and conflict. As climate change intensifies, its impact on human mobility becomes progressively evident. Whether because of slow-onset or sudden natural disasters, the evidence is increasingly clear in highlighting the continued risks associated with this warming trend on human mobility. Estimates predict that, by 2050, up to 200 million people could be displaced within their own countries due to climate change.[1] Policymakers and governments must address the impact climate and environmental degradation is having on human mobility and the challenges this presents on an economic and social level. This paper examines the links between climate change, environmental degradation, and human mobility, with a focus on Rwanda as a case study. Rwanda, a country situated in a region experiencing adverse climate impacts, serves as an example of the challenges related to human mobility in the face of climate-induced hazards. The paper delves into the complexity of migration drivers, acknowledging that environmental degradation is one of several factors contributing to human mobility. Policymakers must understand the interconnected dynamics of these drivers to develop comprehensive solutions that address the multi-faceted challenges. Rwanda’s vulnerability to climate change is evident in its susceptibility to natural hazards. The economic and environmental losses caused by climate-related disasters pose significant risks to livelihoods and economic stability. Despite the challenges, Rwanda has made remarkable strides in addressing climate change and its impact. Initiatives such as the Kamara Model Village demonstrate efforts to resettle households affected by worsening floods and landslides and restore degraded landscapes. Additionally, climate financing facilitated by institutions like the Development Bank of Rwanda and the Rwanda Green Fund is essential for implementing climate action goals. The paper offers key recommendations and considerations for policymakers and governments moving forward: Prioritize vulnerable communities and high-risk areas in the face of increasing climate events to address climate-induced human mobility, encompassing support for vulnerable groups and the relocation of individuals from high-risk zones who lack the means to adapt locally or relocate way from high-risk zones. Enhance resilience in communities capable of local adaptation, mitigating displacement and involuntary migration while fostering local livelihoods. Assess and address triggers of internal displacement, influencing consequential cross-border migration decisions. By adopting a comprehensive and proactive approach to climate-induced mobility, policymakers and governments can take significant steps towards a more sustainable and resilient future. 2.   Introduction Countries around the world are dealing with increasingly severe and compounded challenges due to climate change. The 2015 Paris Agreement reached during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris provided long-term goals to limit global temperature increases to well below 2ºC above preindustrial levels, while striving to limit the increase to 1.5ºC.  Doing so would critically reduce the impact and risks of climate change, with every increment making a difference. The reality in 2023 is stark. Unless there are drastic carbon emissions cuts, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report warns we are on course to reach the 1.5ºC level within the next two decades.[2] Further predictions by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) indicate a 98% chance that the next five-year period will be the warmest on record, and that the world will breach the 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels temporarily but with increasing frequency.[3] The global scale and impact of a warming planet is evident. In 2022, Europe recorded its hottest summer, as reported by the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S).[4] Such record-breaking temperatures and increases in global temperatures are a grim reality of climate change  – July 2023 witnessed the warmest three-week period on record.[5] Canada faced the devastating consequences of wildfires in 2023, causing the worst damage the country has experienced since 1995.[6] The repercussions are even more harrowing in regions that are highly vulnerable. For instance, while floods are a reoccurring phenomenon in Pakistan, the 2022 floods, triggered by extreme precipitation, resulted in the displacement of around 33 million people – a calamity unparalleled in its recent history in terms of spatial and temporal scale.[7] The climate crisis compounds other development challenges, including poverty, health, security, and mobility, threatening to undo decades of development. There is a growing global conversation around the impact of climate change on human mobility. While most movements occur within national borders, people and communities are also moving across borders.  This displacement and migration, whether temporary or longer-term, carries significant economic and social consequences for both the countries of origin and the host nations. Governments and policymakers face increased complexity in addressing climate-induced displacement due to overlapping triggers and limited data, making it challenging to fully assess climate and environmental degradation as a stressor. The increasing number of climate-induced displaced persons is a clear indicator of the pressing needs to address policy gaps around the impact of the climate crisis on human mobility. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), the Geneva-based international body that compiles and publishes data on internal displacement, since 2008 there has been an average of 25.3 million people displaced by sudden-onset disasters each year.[8] In 2022, 60.9 million new internal displacements were recorded across 151 countries, of which a worrying 32.6 million were associated with disasters.[9] There is a need to adopt proactive policy responses as the number of displaced persons continues

  • By John Cerone “Do not come.” With these words, U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris, during a June 2021 press briefing in Guatemala, attempted to discourage would be migrants from attempting to enter the U.S. without the normally requisite approvals and documentation. In her speech, she reiterated the existence of legal pathways for migration, and emphasized that one of the priorities of the current US administration would be to “discourage illegal migration.”  Since that time, irregular migrant encounters at the southern border have reached numbers not seen in over 20 years. Indeed, the past two years have witnessed over four million encounters between Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials and undocumented migrants. Major US cities have declared states of emergency, with New York City Mayor Erik Adams citing the increasing “influx of asylum seekers arriving to New York City from the Southern border.” A similar emergency declaration was recently made by Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey. In the Spring of 2023, the Pentagon announced the deployment to the southern border of 1500 troops to join 2,500 National Guard members already in place to support the work of border agents.  At the same time, the Biden administration has engaged in mass expulsions of migrants, with the expulsion of thousands of Haitian migrants and the expansive use of COVID restrictions attracting particular media attention. Human rights groups have decried the administration’s policies as inhumane and illegal, pointing out that many of those expelled are ‘asylum seekers’. Other organizations refer to the situation at the southern border as one of “mixed migration”. Still others pointed to the increased arrival of “unaccompanied children” as a result of expelled families choosing to separate in order to increase the odds of a child’s admission.  Of course such phenomena, and the related controversies, are not limited to this part of the world. Among dozens of migration hot spots around the globe, international news outlets have featured stories on “trafficking migrants” to the border between Belarus and Poland,i the ongoing displacement crisis in South Sudan ii and renewed “refugee” flows from Sudan,iii the UK policy of sending to Rwanda certain migrants who arrive “illegally,”iv the 7.6 million Ukrainian “refugees” displaced by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war,v and resort to “people smugglers” by Afghans seeking to flee their     What role does international law play in regulating migration? Is there such a thing as “illegal” migration? What does it mean for migration to be “irregular”, or for it to be “mixed”?  Is there a difference between a migrant, an asylum-seeker, a refugee, and an asylee? Is there a difference between “trafficking” and “smuggling” of people? Are any of these legally defined terms, or are they merely descriptive?    The purpose of this briefing is to provide a first step in understanding the legal situation by clarifying some of the relevant terms and providing a brief overview of various categories into which migrants might fall under international law.vii  Migrants  There is no universally accepted definition of the term ‘migrant’ in international law; nor is there a consistent practice in usage of the term. It can be understood in a very narrow sense, as individuals who are voluntarily relocating internationally for an indefinite duration, or it could be understood in a very broad sense, including anyone, in the words of the BBC, “on the move.”viii  Organizations who work on migration issues have adopted their own definitions for purposes of their work. According to the International Organization for Migration, the term “migrant” is:  “An umbrella term, not defined under international law, reflecting the common lay understanding of a person who moves away from his or her place of usual residence, whether within a country or across an international border, temporarily or permanently, and for a variety of reasons.”ix  Like the BBC definition, this broad definition applies to everyone on the move, irrespective of motivation, voluntariness, or legal status.   The term “economic migrant” is sometimes used to describe migrants who have an economic motive. However, it is not a legal term. The fact that a migrant has an economic motive does not disqualify them from international legal protections if their circumstances otherwise render those protections applicable.x   While there is no specific legal protection for migrants as a group in international law, they are of course entitled to the protection of international human rights law, and they may also be entitled to additional rights depending on whether they fall into a protected category.  Irregular migrants, or migrants in an irregular situation  The term “irregular migrant” also lacks a definition in international law. Nonetheless, there is consensus on its meaning, as reflected in international practice.    All countries have established procedures regulating the entry and stay of foreigners. Where foreign migrants enter or remain in such countries without complying with those procedures, they are said to have entered irregularly or are said to be in an irregular situation.xi    International law does not prohibit irregular entry. Whether irregular entry constitutes an illegal act is dependent upon the domestic law of the concerned country. In those countries where such entry or stay constitutes a crime under domestic law, such migrants might be referred to as “illegal” migrants. However, even in those countries where it is a crime, it would be more accurate to refer to these individuals as migrants who have illegally entered or who have committed illegal entry, rather than using the adjective ‘illegal’ to modify the noun ‘migrant.’   In the absence of a prohibition on migration in international law, and because the determination of legal entry or presence is based on domestic law, which varies from state to state, the general term in international practice is “irregular migration.”   Migrant Workers  There are several different definitions of the term “migrant worker” in international law, and these definitions vary among treaty regimes. The most significant of these treaties are Conventions 97 (1949) and 143 (1975) of the International Labour Organization, and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.   The term “migrant

  • A report by the Fletcher International Law Practicum (FILP) in partnership with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) FILP Supervisor & Lead Author, Christine Bustany, Senior Lecturer in International Law, The Fletcher School at Tufts University On July 10, 2023, the UN Security Council failed to renew authorization for critical cross-border humanitarian aid access into Northwest Syria (NWS), on which 90 percent of the population depends. A new report finds that, compounding the humanitarian crisis, hundreds of thousands of children living in opposition-held areas in Northwest Syria are being denied access to their rights to nationality and legal identity, resulting in profound deprivations of their most basic rights. If their rights to nationality and legal identity are not ensured, these children, and the adults they become, will remain living on the margins, vulnerable to the harms associated with exclusion and statelessness.  Based on in-depth research, this report documents the many deprivations experienced by children in NWS that flow as a result of not having access to their nationality and legal identity, features case studies, and provides recommendations on how to address these fundamental children’s rights violations. FILP Masters of Law and Diplomacy (MALD) and Master of Law (LLM) students: Khulood Fahim (MALD ‘22); Shuchi Purohit (LLM ‘22); Amal Rass (MALD ‘22); Gaurav Redhal (LLM ‘22); Michael Vandergriff (MALD ‘22); Alex Avaneszadeh (MALD ‘23); Zaina Basha Masri (MALD ‘24); Samata Sharma Gelal (MALD ‘24); Shahzel Najam (LLM ‘23); Padmini Subhashree (LLM ‘23) Read the Full Report Read the Executive Summary & Recommendations


  • Hopes, Fears, and Illusions: Navigating Trauma-Informed Research with Migrants on the Move In our latest Notes from the Field entry, Co-Principal Investigator Dr. Kimberly Howe and Project Manager Shenandoah Cornish share insights on HFI’s trauma-informed methodology, which encourages researchers to be reflexive, to be aware of power dynamics, and to actively mitigate the risk of re-traumatization of informants. Howe and Cornish reflect, “By contemplating the implications of our inquiries, we strove to foster an environment that respected the autonomy and agency of those who choose to share their stories.”

  • To our alumni and friends, As I reflect on global events since June, I am struck by how desperately the world needs a human security lens. States and non-state actors continue to prioritize power and profit while individuals and communities get caught in the crossfire. The most obvious example is the Hamas-Israel War, which has claimed the lives of at least 18,000 civilians and displaced around 1.8 million people. But it is not the only one. In just the last six months, thousands of people died in climate-induced floods in North Africa; over 100,000 Armenians were displaced by an Azerbaijani military offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh; deadly conflicts broke out in Sudan, the DRC, and Myanmar; and the war in Ukraine continued unabated. All of these crises uprooted people from their homes, contributing to the estimated 114 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide. Since January, more than 500,000 migrants from dozens of countries have crossed the Darien Gap, a treacherous unpaved jungle between Colombia and Panama, in search of safety and sustenance.

  • “Before you make the journey, you don’t understand anything” Since our research teams returned from the field in August 2023, we have been analyzing the results of their in-depth interviews with 131 migrants from 15 countries. Most of the questions were open-ended, requiring a lengthy process of qualitative coding, but we have generated some descriptive statistics that we report in Entry #5. Read the full entry here. Migrant profiles: With regard to country of origin, age, gender, time since departure, and country of destination, our sample maps quite well onto the overall population of U.S.-bound migrants on the route from Colombia to the U.S.-Mexico border. Reflecting regional trends, Venezuelans constitute the vast majority of our sample.

  • The Impact of Climate Change and Environmental Degradation on Human Mobility As climate change intensifies, its impact on human mobility becomes progressively evident. Whether through slow-onset effects or sudden natural disasters, this warming trend is compromising livelihoods and threatens to displace growing numbers of people unless mitigating policies are put in place. Based on summer field research funded by the Leir Institute, this paper examines the links between climate change, environmental degradation, and human mobility, with a focus on Rwanda as a case study. Rwanda, a country situated in a region experiencing adverse climate impacts, serves as an example of the challenges related to human mobility in the face of climate-induced hazards.

  • Migration Protection: Categories in International Law & Practice What role does international law play in regulating migration? Is there such a thing as “illegal” migration? What does it mean for migration to be “irregular” or “mixed”? Who belongs to the categories of migrant, asylum-seeker, refugee, or asylee? Is there a difference between “trafficking” and “smuggling” of people? Are any of these legally defined terms, or are they merely descriptive? This briefing provides a first step in understanding the legal situation of people on the move by clarifying some of the relevant terms and providing a brief overview of various categories into which they might fall under international law. Stay tuned here and on our website:


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.

Hopes, Fears, and Illusions how migrants journeying through Central America and Mexico assess risk and process information regarding entry into the U.S. It is a program of the Disrupted Mobilities project, inspired by the 2020 documentary Waylaid in Tijuana.

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 Leir Briefing Room, home of the Leir Migration Monitor newsletter, centralizes the Leir Institute’s research and analysis for practitioners and policymakers, providing clear, concise information on migration and human security.

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 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.

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.