“Hay cipotes que solo matar saben” : structural violence and Central American asylum-seeking youth in Mexico




Valdivia Ramírez, Olimpia Montserrat

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One of the greatest challenges northern Central American countries (Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala) face is the internal and cross-border displacement of unaccompanied minors. According to the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR), Central American unaccompanied minors asylum requests in Mexico have increased by 433 percent since 2013. Their vulnerabilities and complex experiences with violence are poorly understood, particularly in the asylum process. Research on children and violence mostly centers on gangs and the violence they inflict on adolescents and the general population. In this dissertation, I trace the violence that youth face through the materiality of the everyday. I document the most pervasive violence affecting adolescents in Central America: the lack of protection from their families, their communities, and the state. This complicates the widespread belief that gang violence is the most prevalent violence affecting adolescents. The cycle of violence does not end when adolescents leave their home country. It follows them throughout the asylum process and haunts them in the vacuum of social integration even after they are recognized as refugees. In Mexico, the main issue is not only whether they are recognized as refugees, but what happens after they achieve refugee status, since the state lacks an appropriate integration program. This dissertation draws upon three interrelated and mutually reinforcing theoretical and epistemological perspectives: Childhood and Migration Studies, Feminist Political Geography, and Critical Violence Paradigms. It employed a youth-centered, ethnographic, mixed-methods approach integrating secondary data collection and procedural-political analysis, key actor depth-interviews, and participatory observation. The fieldwork took place from August 2020 to April 2021 at a migrant shelter in Tenosique, Tabasco, on the southern border of Mexico. I worked with 60 unaccompanied minor migrants (56 from Honduras, 3 from Guatemala and 1 from Nicaragua). Of these, 8 considered themselves girls (including one transgender female), 49 boys, and 3 non-binary.


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