Expansion of the scope of the project "Following the Thread of Errancy: Travellers from the Global South in the Urabá Region

Project: Research Project

Project Details


In recent years migration has burst into the Colombian national scene as a central problem and as a humanitarian problem of an international nature. However, the migration crisis of Venezuelans in the national territory is not the only migration scenario that ties the country to transnational circulation routes. For several years now, there has also been an increase in the circulation of both Latin Americans and Africans and Asians who use the country as a bridge with Central America to reach North America, and who in many cases - but not always - are entrusted to migrant trafficking networks. Both individual travelers and migrant trafficking networks use international airports and land and sea border crossings in Colombia to transit north (Palma 2015; Khoudour-Castéras 2009). Marginal regions of the country such as the border between Colombia and Ecuador have become major points on the land circulation routes through which foreigners enter from the neighbouring country to head for the border with Panama, with these two borders constituting central nodes in the routes to the United States (UNODC 2013:17). In 2015 and 2016 the transit of these travellers became visible in the national media when Panama closed its border with Colombia because of the volume of foreigners crossing it.

With some recent exceptions (Echeverri and Acevedo 2018 and Valenzuela 2018), most of the work published on the subject is limited to reviews of policies, reports and laws promoted to address the problem (see Onzaga Barreto 2016: Khoudour-Castéras 2009 and UNODC 2013, among others). The experience of people who travel to Colombia from different parts of the world has been relegated to press articles and some interviews in different media. Thus, it is essential to approach the experience of travelers who arrive in Colombia and make their way to Central America through its territory. The passage of migrants through border areas and its effects on the local population has not been framed in the incipient Colombian migratory studies either.

This project seeks to broaden the scope of the project "Following the Thread of Errancy: Travellers from the Global South in the Urabá Region", whose principal researcher is a professor of anthropology at the University of Antioquia and whose co-researcher is a professor at the School of Human Sciences at the University of Rosario, and which will begin in the second semester of 2019. Our objectives of
The aim of this research is to understand how the experience of African, Asian and Caribbean travellers is shaped during their passage through the Urabá, and also to study their interactions with the local population. Planned as an exploratory project that seeks to approach the social reality of the Urabá area, "Following the Thread of Errancy" was proposed between 2017 and 2018 to have a first approach to the subject in a region of Colombia.

However, since the project's original proposal, the migration situation in the United States has created an imprisonment of migrants on Mexico's southern and northern borders, where many of the travellers who initially pass through our country end up waiting indefinitely to apply for asylum or try to enter illegally through the increasingly dangerous informal crossings controlled by armed actors on the border. This apprehension involves several points on the journey through Central America and Mexico that facilitate interaction between travelers and researchers that we had not initially anticipated. Likewise, the migratory situation in South America, particularly the effects of the massive migration of Venezuelans to Colombia and Ecuador, has generated changes in the region's migratory policies that can have an effect on broader transnational processes that bring extra-continental travelers to our country.

As a result of the above, we see the need to broaden the scope of the original project to include other points in the migrants' journeys through Colombia and to seek institutional alliances with researchers in Central and North America in order to establish a broad academic network that will allow us to follow the travelers to their final destinations (whether these are the United States, Canada, or Mexico and potentially their countries of origin, if they are deported). The emphasis on the traveler's experience implies being able to follow their trajectories through different regions and countries, which requires internationally articulated research efforts.
In this way, we sought to broaden the initial scope of the original project that concentrated only on the Colombia-Panama border with some exploratory outlets to the Colombia-Ecuador border. In addition to seeking scenarios where we can meet and interact with migrants, we will seek alliances with state institutions, local administrations and NGOs that serve migrants, while we need to establish alliances with researchers in this region who can contribute to a broader future project that follows the journeys of travelers through southern Colombia. Likewise, the original project does not contemplate field work in Medellín, where many travelers must go through safe conduct procedures in order to continue their journey, something that we need to study in depth in order to advance towards a more comprehensive project that studies the phenomenon throughout the continent.

Following these lines, we also seek to establish contact with researchers at points along the way in Central America and on the southern and northern borders of Mexico in order to organize a network of researchers who can follow the trajectories of migrants to North America. This will generate the necessary academic input to propose a future project with a scope along the entire trajectory of the migrants. We have made progress in the search for interested researchers and institutions, but it is necessary to travel to some places and make personal contacts. Some countries yet to be explored, which have academic institutions with researchers on migration issues, are Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico.

Conceptually, our approach seeks a critical reflection on the concept of migration and its limitations in order to "explain the uncertainties surrounding human mobility in the world
contemporary, especially its relationship to the nation state" (Echeverri and Acevedo 2018: 108). Transnational studies critically address this relationship (Levitt and Glick-Schiller 2004) by stating that "it is common to equate the ideas of nation-state and society, to circumscribe the analysis to their territorial boundaries and to associate the cultural differences involved in displacement with national identity" (Echeverri and Acevedo 2018: 108). Another factor that makes it difficult to undo the link between the concepts of migration and the nation-state is the close relationship between migration theory and government policies (Echeverri and Acevedo 2018). Limiting migration analysis to national borders and policies within them implies a "methodological nationalism" that prevents understanding the social, economic and political frameworks that affect population movements beyond the nation state (Wimmer and Glick Schiller 2002). In the case of Colombia, this occurs both in academia and at the level of public policy (Ordóñez and Colmenares 2019). As a result, we prefer to frame the experiences of people who pass through Colombia with a view to arriving in Central America as "travelers," since their trajectories can take years and their movements occur on the margins of multiple states and cannot be reduced to a "migration" between two points (a country of origin and a country of destination). Thinking from the margins also allows us to understand the ways in which actors challenge, evade, and respond to the system of control in which they are immersed (Das and Pool 2004).

Methodologically, the fieldwork in Medellín, Urabá and Nariño that we need to fund (the first two only for the co-researcher from the Universidad del Rosario) will be an ethnographic approach to the experiences of travellers and people working in Colombian state institutions, NGOs and local associations. The approach of the project that we seek to expand, with its methodology, has already been approved by the Ethics Committee of the University of Antioquia. The data collection in this case would be extended to the border between Colombia and Ecuador and to Medellín and will be presented together with the already approved documentation that includes the specific methodology to the Ethics Committee of the Universidad del Rosario.

The visits to Central America and Mexico are to establish a network of researchers with a view to proposing a project with international scope along the travellers' routes. In this sense, this part of the expansion will not involve collecting data, but rather meetings and academic activities.

Daas, V. Poole, D. (2004) Anthropology in the margins of the state. Oxford, Santa Fe: SAR Press, James Currey.

Echeverri, J. Acevedo, L. (2018). Thinking through wandering: journeys and waits of African travellers in Quito and Dakar. Antipode. Journal of Anthropology and Archaeology 32: 105-123.

Khoudour-Castéras, D. (2009). "Effects of migration on child labour in Colombia". Revista de Economía Institucional 11 (20).

Levitt, Peggy, and Nina Glick Schiller (2004). Conceptualizing Simultaneity: A Transnational Social Field Perspective on Society. International Migration Review 38(3): 1002-1039

Onzaga B. Yira T. (2016). Migrant Trafficking through Colombia: the Limits of the International Regime (2005-2016). Graduate work. Master in International Relations. Javeriana University. Bogotá.

Ordóñez, J. and Colmenares, F. (2019) Tres generaciones del transnacionalismo Kichwa-Otavalo. International Migrations

Palma, M. (2015). "Country of emigration, immigration, transit and return? The formation of a Colombian migration system". OASIS 0 (21): 7-28.

UNODC (2013). Dimension of the crime of migrant trafficking in Colombia: institutional, legal and judicial realities. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Bogotá.

Valenzuela, S. (2018). Helping chilangos: solidarity, policies, networks and subjectivities in Turbo (Antioquia) (Master's thesis) University of Antioquia, Medellín

Wimmer, A. and N. Glick Schiller (2002). Methodological nationalism and beyond: Nation-State building, migration and the social sciences. Global Networks 2(4): 301-334.


The expected results are of two types, the first are academic results of scientific dissemination and the second are strategic alliances with state institutions, NGOs and universities at different points of the journey in Colombia, Central America and Mexico:

1.Scientific dissemination
1.1.Two indexed academic articles (at least one in an international academic journal)
1.2.An article aimed at the general public in Colombia through a magazine or newspaper of national circulation.
1.3.Two presentations in conferences, congresses or academic events (one national and one international)

2 Strategic partnerships to expand the scope of the project
2.1.Alliances with state institutions, NGOs, international organizations and universities on the border between Colombia and Ecuador
2.2.Alliances with researchers in Central America
Alliances with researchers working on the southern and northern borders of Mexico

Commitments / Obligations

Los resultados esperados son de dos tipos, el primero son resultados académicos de divulgación científica y los segundos son de alianzas estratégicas con instituciones del estado, ONG y Universidades en diferentes puntos del trayecto en Colombia, Centroamérica y México:

1.Divulgación científica
1.1.Dos artículos académicos indexados (por lo menos uno en una revista académica internacional)
1.2.Un artículo orientado al público general en Colombia a través de una revista o periódico de difusión nacional.
1.3.Dos ponencias en conferencias, congresos o eventos académicos (uno nacional y una internacional)

2.Alianzas estratégicas para ampliar el alcance del proyecto
2.1.Alianzas con instituciones del estado, ONGs, organizamos internacionales y Universidades en la frontera entre Colombia y Ecuador
2.2.Alianzas con investigadores en Centroamérica
2.3.Alianzas con investigadores que trabajen en las frontera sur y norte de México
Effective start/end date1/31/203/22/22

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities

Main Funding Source

  • Competitive Funds
  • Seed Capital


  • Medellín
  • San Pedro de Uraba


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