Caroline Deschak profile

It will be years before we can begin to fully unravel the multitude of social, economic and health consequences of the pandemic on those currently in the migratory process.

On Fulbright research into migrant health and food security in Mexico

Mexico is home to a highly unique and globally relevant migratory scene, which includes among more traditional flows, a growing number of internationals in transit towards the United States, currently estimated at between 300-500,000 people annually. Fulbright and the country office COMEXUS were key to enabling my studies on migration and health: not from a book, but in real time.

Studying my masters at the INSP in Morelos, Mexico, I interned at the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City, where I worked directly with human rights defenders to analyse the humanitarian response to the “migrant caravans” of 2018-2019. I visited several of the migrant houses which serve as a beacon of social assistance across the country, one of which generously hosted me during the primary recollection of data on food security and coping strategies which international migrants use during the highly precarious transit through Mexico. Sustainable Development Goal 2.1.2 of the 2030 Agenda measures food insecurity using an experience scale; the true experiences of those in the migration process are indicators which must be given voice in order to understand their level of access to food. Working directly with migrants and those who advocate for their rights in Mexico was what allowed me to make a little of this emergent area of study come to life; I hope it’s just the beginning.

On the impact of COVID-19 on migrant populations transiting Mexico

The pandemic has had, and continues to have, an outsized effect on the international migrants in Mexico, especially those who are undocumented. Migrants in transit have very little civic and social capital to rely on, and particularly in Mexico, their journey is marked by organized crime and violence. In the example of food security, our work found that even before the pandemic about 75% of migrants in transit suffer moderate to severe food insecurity, and all employ coping strategies associated with humanitarian crises; when they could get food, it was often through civil society organizations. The emergence of COVID-19 has deeply worsened a wide variety of social health determinants, including access to the most basic necessities of food, water, shelter and healthcare. Our work reinforced the evidence that migrants in transit rely heavily on civil society organizations to meet their basic daily needs, most of which were forced to close their doors. Preliminary studies describe increased discrimination towards migrants, viewed by some to be potential carriers of COVID-19, as well as that most who worked have lost their job. National policies throughout the region, including the expedited return policy of the United States and the lack of guaranteed access to the national health system for international migrants in Mexico, demonstrate increased risks to this highly vulnerable population, in which a growing number of cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed. The situation is very much still in progress, and it is critical that the necessary priority be given to the human rights of migrants, which we discuss in a recent piece. and another more extensive one soon to be released. It will be years before we can begin to fully unravel the multitude of social, economic and health consequences of the pandemic on those currently in the migratory process.

On next steps

A pandemic is a funny time to graduate, but I’m happy to be assisting an International Cooperation and COVID-19 course at a university in Mexico City, and receiving continued support by my thesis committee to work towards publishing my work, which documents food security and coping strategies in international migrants transiting Mexico. I hope that this is only the beginning of the exploration of this subject, increasingly critical as international migration is rising to include almost 4% of the world population, of which more than half are women and children. Our recent work provides important insights on the applicability of the international tool used to measure the access dimension of food insecurity within mobile populations, as well as first insights into use of emergency coping strategies unique to transiting migrants in the Mexican context, which are key to identifying risks and gaps in the guarantee of the human right to an adequate standard of living. The emergence of the pandemic has made these priorities all the more urgent, and I aspire to be a part of effective and efficient solutions to ensuring that this right is respected even in the most difficult situations. A dream has always been to work with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization or World Food Programme; maybe now is my time!

Hi, I’m Caroline Deschak and I recently finished two years as a Fulbright-Garcia Robles Graduate Degree Program grantee in Mexico. Originally from the Washington D.C. area, I hold a Bachelor’s of Science from Salisbury University, and with the help of Fulbright, a Master’s in public health from the Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública (INSP) of Mexico. I focus on access to health and wellbeing in vulnerable populations which determine the progress towards the United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda, specifically in the migration context. I’m always happy to hear from Fulbrighters and those with similar interests!

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