On 17th and 18th November, 2022, the SYLFF Mikrokolleg on Forced Migration hosted an international conference on ‘Gang-Induced Migration: Challenges and Perspectives from Social Science and International Law’ at Ruhr-University Bochum. The conference invited for an interdisciplinary dialogue between academics and practitioners who work on issues related to gang-induced migration. To this end, the conference organizers, RUB Ph.D. candidates and SYLFF fellows Rafael Bohlen, Spyridoula Katsoni, and Jan-Phillip Graf, gathered international speakers from over ten different countries to present their research and discuss current and future developments in this field.
The conference commenced with a presentation by RUB’s Professor Pries who set the stage for the following two days by discussing theoretical implications of ‘organized violence’ and calling for the implementation of a ‘holistic and interdisciplinary’ approach to address the challenge of gang-induced migration.
Another highlight followed with the keynote addressed by the renowned anthropologist and award-winning author Juan José Martínez. In his presentation, he shared his firsthand observations of how gangs, in particular the Mara Salvatrucha, constantly have been evolving and adapting – a challenge which is at the core of any response to gang-induced migration. The first thematic panel connected six scholars who presented their research on gang-induced migration in different national contexts, including El Salvador, Honduras, Brazil, China, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Particularly interesting, these six researchers framed gang-induced migration as a transnational framework of connected vulnerabilities that involves a wide variety of actors, including apart from migrants themselves, for instance, gangs, traffickers, states, and law enforcement.
After a brief intermission, the second panel focused on forward-looking approaches to counter different facets of gang-induced migration. Starting with a quantitative assessment of citizens’ sense of security in areas affected by gang violence in El Salvador, the speakers explained how actors such as development and aid organizations as well as churches can form part of possible solutions to many issues connected with gang-induced migration. These presentations, in turn, sparked an engaged discussion about the role of academic research in the generation of data and policies that are needed by local actors to build effective policy responses. Many of the discussions continued during the conference dinner at Yamas Mezé where the invited speakers got the chance to talk about future research cooperations in a more informal environment.
The second day of the conference slightly shifted the focus towards the manifold legal challenges connected with gang-induced migration. Five speakers, many of whom with extensive practical experience as immigration attorneys and expert witnesses, confronted alarming trends in international refugee law that have guided states in the direction of denying asylum claims of victims of gang-violence or of persons who have left gangs and live in constant fear of retaliation as a consequence. Interestingly, all speakers stressed that existing laws are largely sufficient to protect gang-induced migrants, however, the political will to enforce those laws properly is often absent.
After informal networking over lunch, the conference concluded with a final roundtable discussion which brought together conference participants with more practice-focused and more academic backgrounds to discuss a future research and cooperation agenda. Central takeaways concerned the scant availability of high-quality data, a lack of cooperation, and scattered policies that fail to address the root causes of gang-induced migration. The organizers hope that the conference supported addressing current challenges in ganginduced migration by inviting for an interdisciplinary dialogue at the crossroads between academia and practice.
The conference organizers would like to thank RUB’s Research School, in particular Dr. Sarah Gemicioglu, as well as the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research for their generous support without which this conference would not have been possible.