Research page

Young Venezuelan Migrants in Colombia’s Urban Peripheries: Criminals, Criminalized or Change-Makers?

Project description 

South-South migration is an increasing, yet still largely understudied phenomenon. Representing 36% of the global stock, migrants who resettle in developing countries face different challenges than migrants resettling in developed economies. This theme is particularly timely in Colombia, where, in recent years, more than 2 million Venezuelans have resettled, following the humanitarian crisis in their home country. Most migrants have re-settled in large urban peripheries, where they live together with disadvantaged sectors of the Colombian population, and where they have to negotiate their relationship with the criminal narco-gangs that control these neighbourhoods.

Within the emerging body of literature on the experiences of Venezuelan migrants, there is remarkably little focus on the experiences of the youth. Specifically, no academic research has, to date, explored how young Venezuelan migrants relate to organized crime. This is surprising, given that a major portion of this population is made of boys and young men – who, across contexts, make up a large part of those who engage in crime and violence.

To fill this gap, this 2-year research project aims to explore the experiences of young Venezuelans who have settled in the peripheries of Medellín, Colombia’s second biggest city, and their relationship with the criminal gangs that operate in these areas. Are young Venezuelans recruited into existing gangs, do they form gangs of their own, or do they refuse gang engagement altogether? And what role does nationality play, if any, in their (resistance to) criminal engagement?

To explore these questions, the project adopts a comparative and interdisciplinary approach structured around two work packages: WP 1 consists of an ethnographic exploration of young Venezuelans’ relationship with organized crime in Nueva Jerusalén, one of the poorest and least developed neighbourhoods in Medellín; while WP2 consists of a Participatory Action Research (PAR) process carried out together with the local NGO Con- Vivamos in a different neighbourhood, Manrique – a more established marginal area in Medellín characterized by an active civil society. This comparative approach will allow to explore differences in both the migrant youth population and the dynamics of different parts of the urban periphery – which are too often treated as homogenous categories.

Theoretically, this project contributes to the body of qualitative research exploring the intersection between gangs, crime, and migration It will help to move beyond the criminological, North-led lens of ‘subculture’, and rather look at young migrants’ engagement in crime through the lenses of exploitation, class difference, and structural oppression. It will also provide important insights to illuminate the connection between South-South migration and the peace-crime nexus in post-conflict societies. Practically, the project will inform better reception and protection mechanisms for young Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, and for young migrants in urban peripheries in the Global South, more generally.

The project will be hosted at the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding of the IHEID, and will also involve a collaboration the Universidad Nacional de Colombia.

Associated projects can be found on


This project is funded through a SNSF Postdoctoral Fellowship (Swiss equivalent of the Marie-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship).



Principal Investigator