Stateless Guatemalan Refugees in Mexico

PhotographerManuel Gil
PrizeHonorable Mention
Entry Description

In 2016 I took portraits of 26 “stateless” indigenous Mayans who fled Guatemala during a military conflict that engulfed the region during the 1980s and 1990s. The conflict produced 250,000 civilian deaths, 45,000 disappeared, 1.5 million internally displaced, and 200,000 refugees who fled to Mexico. Twenty seven thousand Guatemalan refugees remain stateless in Mexico. Many have lived in Mexico for over thirty years. Reduced legal options to regularize status and bolstered immigration enforcement measures in Mexico have left refugees vulnerable to deportations and family separations. Despite denial of legal status, Guatemalan exiles are able to establish family ties with partners and children – many of whom are Mexican-born citizen nationals. In contrast to dominant portrayals of migrants as “threats” to the nation my portraits depict refugees in a dignified light for their tireless efforts to be recognized as rights bearing members who seek a sense of belonging in Mexico.

Story

In 2014, 26 stateless indigenous Mayan refugees from Guatemala and community leaders, in Chiapas, Mexico coordinated a collective effort to file a grievance to the Mexican state regarding the prolonged delay in processing naturalization claims . In 2016, as we awaited the Mexican government’s response, I took portraits of stateless subjects and learned about the difficulties they lived through as stateless refugees and the impact this continues to have on their families. Reduced legal options to regularize status and bolstered immigration enforcement measures in Mexico have left stateless refugees from Guatemala vulnerable to family separations as a consequence of deportations. Living in Mexico for over thirty years and raising Mexican-born citizens reveals a cruel paradox regarding the prolonged statelessness and vulnerability of Guatemalan refugees. Twenty seven thousand Guatemalan refugees remain stateless in Mexico. Scholarship funds will be used to cover the cost of travel to take 40 additional photos of this stateless population in Mexico starting October 1, 2018. Funds will also support the production of an interactive website – in indigenous Mayan languages and Spanish – that provides information on how community members in refugee settlements and civil society can aid in the legalization process of those who remain stateless in Mexico. The project will conclude by April 1, 2018. My plans to use my photography in conjunction with information on how to pressure the Mexican state to provide legal status to thousands of migrants who remain stateless make my project humanistically driven, gripping, original and worthy of support.1