The browser you are using is not supported by this website. All versions of Internet Explorer are no longer supported, either by us or Microsoft (read more here:

Please use a modern browser to fully experience our website, such as the newest versions of Edge, Chrome, Firefox or Safari etc.

Photo of Priscilla Solano. Private.

Priscilla Solano

Senior lecturer

Photo of Priscilla Solano. Private.

Assisting in the Shadows : Humanitarianism, Shelters and Transit Migration Politics


  • Priscilla Solano

Summary, in English

The Tamaulipas tragedy in 2010 proved a turning point for transit migration politics. This was one of the worst massacres on Mexican territory, in which 72 undocumented migrants, mostly from Central America, were kidnapped, tortured, and their dead bodies piled up in a ditch at a local ranch in the northern Mexican state. With this event, transit migrants became visible through their experiences of violence, insecurity, humanitarian crisis and vulnerability. Mexico’s reputation as the corredor de la muerte (corridor of death) for many Central Americans, was acknowledged by academics, Latin American governments, non-governmental organisations, faith-based networks and international humanitarian actors. However, it remains to be addressed and acknowledged by the Mexican state.

This thesis is a qualitative study of the politics, constitution and practices of humanitarianism in the shelters that have developed along the route that Central American migrants take across Mexico on their way to the United States. It focuses on one particular shelter in southern Mexico, run by a charismatic and internationally famous priest. The shelters are staffed largely by religious actors and volunteers who style themselves ‘human rights defenders’ but have also attracted ‘apolitical’ international actors. Most of those involved with the shelter are non-state actors, though they rely on the state for the implementation of human rights.

The empirical analysis traces the constitution of the shelter as an emerging humanitarian complex and the social and political dynamics of distributing assistance as humanitarian. It argues that there is a confrontation between a liberal humanitarian agenda, informed by Eurocentric principles, that works towards security and peace, with an emerging local humanitarian agenda, informed by a Christian logic, that frames the issue as one of human rights geared towards free and dignified transit. Thus, while the former provides assistance through tailored services for victims of crime, repatriation schemes and anti-migration schemes, the latter focuses on fulfilling basic needs and providing spiritual support as well as political advocacy.

This thesis explores the political effects from the constant tensions between the merging of security and humanitarianism discourses concerning migration. These tensions, I argue, go beyond state structures, and lie at the heart of power struggles rooted in ‘coloniality’ and their collision with liberal Eurocentric principles of freedom, security and peace that especially affect poor, criminalised non-citizens. This thesis applies a lens of ‘coloniality’ onto class, criminalisation and movement, and is based on participant-observation and semi and unstructured interviews.


  • Sociology

Publishing year




Document type



Lund University


  • Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)


  • class
  • criminalisation
  • human rights
  • humanitarian crisis
  • humanitarianism
  • movement
  • poverty
  • transit migration




  • Åsa Lundqvist
  • Bridget Anderson


  • ISBN: 978-91-7753-103-6
  • ISBN: 978-91-7753-102-9

Defence date

3 February 2017

Defence time


Defence place

Kulturens Hörsal, Tegnersplatsen, Lund


  • Julia O'Connell Davidson (Professor)