Criminality as a Driver of Displacement

Forced displacement generated by organized crime is a little-studied and poorly understood phenomenon. Nonetheless, forced displacement is again ubiquitous across Mesoamerica. Three decades after the political turmoil, civil wars and refugee flows of the 1980s, a new wave of displaced persons is sweeping the region. Across El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, the violence of organized criminal groups has produced an epidemic of forcible displacement.

This project analyses the dynamics of this alarming new wave of forced displacement and their implications of scholarship on forced migration and humanitarian and development responses within the region. The project has focused particularly on raising the profile of the displacement that is driven by a range of different types of organised criminal groups in Mesoamerica (but also elsewhere in the region), including street gangs, smuggling syndicates and powerful drug cartels. The research has been presented widely at governmental meetings across the Americas and to local and international media, and contributed to the scaling up of a humanitarian (and policy) response within the region, as well as winning the Times Higher Education (THE) award for Research Project of the Year 2017-18 in the Arts, Humanities and Social Science category.

Key publications and other outputs

Key institutional activities

  • Contribution to Developing Protection Policy on Venezuela (2018, for UNHCR Bureau for the Americas / Department of International Protection)
  • Contribution to Developing Protection Policy on Guatemala (2016, for UNHCR Bureau for the Americas / Department of International Protection)
  • Contribution to Developing Protection Policy on Honduras (2016, for UNHCR Bureau for the Americas / Department of International Protection)
  • Contribution to Developing Protection Policy on El Salvador (2015, for UNHCR Bureau for the Americas / Department of International Protection)
  • RLI panel on “The New Frontier: Organised Crime and Forced Migration in Mexico” (IASFM Conference, Bogotá, Colombia, 2014)
  • Recommendations to Latin American governments participating in the UNHCR/IIHL Seminario de Planificación “La Declaración y el Plan de Acción de Brasil: el reto de su implementación” (San Remo, Italy, March 2015)
  • RLI/UCA Expert Workshop on “Los Grupos Criminales Organizados y la Nueva Ola de Desplazamiento Forzado en América Latina” (San Salvador, El Salvador, May 2014)

The work between 2012 and 2015 was supported by Economic and Social Research Council Future Research Leaders grant (PI: Cantor - ES/K001051/1).