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Measuring Human Rights Violations and Mortality Amongst Migrants and Refugees in the Sahel Region

September 1, 2018 - August 31, 2019
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Columbia Global Centers | Tunis

The global crisis of forced migration is one of the defining humanitarian challenges of our time.  Every minute an estimated 24 people around the world are forced to flee conflict, persecution and poverty. Nowhere is this dynamic more vividly demonstrated than in the Sahel region, as many migrants undertake one of the most dangerous treks in the world – the crossing of the Sahara en route to Libya and then a boat ride across the Mediterranean to the promise of a new life in Europe. Their journeys are fraught with immense risk: migrants and refugees have reported being abducted, detained and tortured for ransom, raped, thrown off boats, or left in the desert.

In response to increasing levels of global migration to the European Union (EU), member states, and nations and regional authorities along migration routes are implementing policies that result in negative protection risks for refugees and migrants. Despite reported death and human rights violations of refugees and migrants documented along the Sahel route, little reliable data exists to document the adverse outcomes faced by those migrating in this region.

This proposal outlines the second phase of a longitudinal mixed-methods research project aimed at improving documentation of human rights violations and mortality along migration routes in the Sahel. Building on the activities completed through the support of a 2018 PGIF planning grant and utilizing a multi-pronged and contextually-appropriate research program focused on quantitative and key informant data collection and analysis, the second phase will generate a rigorous body of evidence to inform policy and advocacy efforts in Europe and sub-Saharan Africa related to the Sahel migration. Ultimately this will help inform safer migration polices that protect the human rights and right to life of migrants and refugees on the move.

The proposed research relies heavily on local communities and researchers to gain access to vulnerable and difficult to reach populations, namely migrants and refugees on the move in the Sahel. Although local staff from will be our primary contact, they are generally born in and live in the communities where we will be conducting our research, and as such are well-known and well-respected in their communities. Their assistance and community mobilization will be essential to a successful research project. 

This project will continue our existing partnership with the Columbia Global Centers | Tunis. Given its strategic geographic location, the Columbia Global Centers | Tunis is an ideal field office for scholars working on regional research and is a natural hub for North Africa, Saharan and Mediterranean migration studies. The partnership will benefit from Tunis’s role as the primary base for international organizations and policy experts working on migration in Libya and in the Sahel.

As a magnet for students from all across sub-Saharan Africa, the institutes of higher education in Tunis provide a bridge to their home countries. This will be an invaluable benefit while developing culturallyappropriate research methodologies and establishing partnerships in migrants countries of origin. The partnership between the Columbia University research team and the newest CGC represents an ideal collaboration that will help develop the capacity of the Columbia Global Centers | Tunis and help position it as a regional leader in migration research and advocacy. The Columbia Global Centers | Tunis Director, Youssef Cherif, has been actively engaged with the project and fully supports the second phase of the research project.