Negotiating Survival: Central American Refugee Women in Mexico and the Politics of Deservingness

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access | Ahead of Print | Last Modified: 15 November 2022

Negotiating Survival: Central American Refugee Women in Mexico and the Politics of Deservingness


  • Susanne Willers Faculty of Social Sciences, TU Dortmund, Germany / Arnold Bergstraesser Institute, University of Freiburg, Germany


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Abstract:  This article aims to analyse the difficulties Central American refugee women face when applying for refugee protection in Mexico and how they negotiate survival during this process. Claiming refugee protection is an important legal mechanism to ensure survival, but managing this process successfully is difficult, not only because of the bureaucratic complexities but also because of structural and political constraints. Research has addressed the difficulties migrant women face while in transit and in the United States, but there is less analysis on the limitations in accessing refugee protection in transit countries such as Mexico. Therefore, this article examines the main barriers women face by considering the social and spatial specifics of two different reception sites, the southern Mexican city of Tapachula and Mexico City, in the centre of the country. Drawing on ethnographic field research and interviews with refugees and practitioners, this research seeks to understand women’s agency in dealing with adversity in reception contexts. Analysis showed that women need to engage in micro‐level negotiations with gatekeepers in host communities to gain access to humanitarian assistance and social rights. In addition, it has showed that access to scarce resources depends on personal performance in terms of vulnerability and “deservingness.” This demonstrates the complexities refugee women encounter in the local context, but also the role of institutional constraints to humanitarian attention in contrast to an integral understanding of rights. Furthermore, the obstacles faced by refugees and the generation of uncertainty and waiting must be analysed as a political strategy to prevent effective access to asylum in Mexico.

Keywords:  deservingness; gender; Mexico; refugee protection; social navigation; social rights; waiting

Published:   Ahead of Print

Issue:   Critical Refugee Intersections: Before, During, and After Flight (Forthcoming)

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v10i4.5739


© Susanne Willers. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.