The Leir Institute’s research is rooted in our mission: to help policymakers and practitioners develop more equitable and sustainable responses to migration and its root causes by employing a human security approach. True to this approach, our programs combine practice, education, and research that employs multi-disciplinary frames of analysis, drawing on principles of governance, human rights, gender, conflict resolution, livelihoods, nutrition and public health, and humanitarian assistance.  

Our current programs include: 

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

Digital Portfolios of the Poor (DPP) is a multi-year, multi-country project aimed at creating better digital financial products for the poor by understanding how emerging technologies are viewed, used, understood, and perceived in low-income settings, particularly among women. The project is a joint initiative with Decodis, a social research company founded and led by Leir Senior Fellow Dr. Daryl Collins. 

Disrupted Mobilities is a multimedia project inspired by the Leir-sponsored 2019 documentary, Waylaid in Tijuana, that explores the intersecting effects of blocked asylum, deportation, and restricted cross-border movement in communities along the US-Mexico border. 

The Journeys Project (JP) examines 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 Program on Human Security and Inner Development (PHUSID) is a skills-building initiative with Aarhus University in Denmark and the government of Costa Rica to better prepare students to work effectively and practice self-care in violent or fragile contexts. 

The Refugees in Towns project (RIT)  promotes understanding of the migrant/refugee integration experience by drawing on the knowledge and perspectives of refugees themselves as well as local hosts.  

Learn more about Leir’s past programs here.  

Latest Updates

  • by Makele Saidi 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 to rise. Estimates reveal that between 200 million to 1.2 billion people globally could be displaced within borders or forced to flee across them by 2050 due to climate change and natural disasters.[10]   The following chapters present an overview of how climate change contributes to environmental degradation and its effects

  • 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

  • “We leave it all behind because we have to.” Our research teams have concluded six weeks of volunteering with local partners and interviewing migrants in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Colombia. As the testimonies reveal, migrants usually leave their homes reluctantly, out of desperation, and with remarkably little information about what lies ahead. They also rely heavily on their faith and love for their children to sustain them on these perilous journeys. At the same time, we have found notable contrasts between the different sites. Read more in our new entry.

  • 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