The psychosocial aspects of migration

Jana Sladkova, PhD

Professor of Psychology

University of New York in Prague


Hello, I am excited to be teaching at UNYP for the first time this semester. I am offering classes about Psychology of Diversity, Psychology of Immigration, and Research Methods for Social Scientists.

And I am coming back this summer to teach an interdisciplinary course on migration and am bringing a group of American students to be part of the course along with students from UNYP and Charles University.  I usually work at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, with which UNYP has a partnership and where UNYP students have been studying abroad for the past 2 years. I want to share some of my research interests with you in this short piece.

I am a social psychologist though my work is quite interdisciplinary. My research focuses on psychosocial aspects of migration (mostly unauthorized) and sustainability of migrant-sending communities, often neglected in migration scholarship. I study multifaceted aspects of the entire migration process – from before migration to a (potential) return back. My goal is to provide nuanced interpretations of migration issues in order to deepen our understanding of migrant experiences from a psychosocial perspective and to provide a venue for marginalized migrants’ stories and voices.

My first big research project examined experiences of Hondurans migrating to the United States without required documents (visas).  I found out that the journey they take is dangerous and often leads to injuries, both physical and psychological. Many people also die along 3000 mile long journey across Mexico. The journey is so hard because already in Mexico, Honduran migrants are considered unauthorized and are hunted and abused by gangs, drug cartels, even police and immigration officers. Migrants travel either alone or with a smuggler, which costs around $8000 nowadays. They are smuggled crowded in vans or trucks without much air, in the luggage compartments of buses, or if they travel alone, they often ride on top of freight trains.

In 2014, more than 50,000 children and youth under the age of 18 arrived on the U.S.- Mexico border pleading to be taken into the U.S.  Most are running away from gang violence, drug cartels, and extreme poverty. The large numbers of these unaccompanied minors created a humanitarian crisis on the border. Several social psychologists in the United States commented on this crisis and recommended policy changes and best practices how to work with the youngsters. You can hear all of the scholar’s short testimonies at

These journeys are of course not the only ones people undergo when migrating.  Closer to UNYP’s home, many Africans try to land in Italy or Spain. The last part of their journey over happens in makeshift boats on often rough seas. The boats often sink before reaching land, leaving many migrants drowned.

And still, if/when the migrants reach their destinations, their struggles have hardly ended. Because of their status they fear deportation to the country from which they fled, they work in dangerous and underpaid jobs – they live in the shadows of society, which does not want to deal with them as human beings, but rather as numbers without actual lives or as unwanted trash. Yet, many of the receiving countries have aging populations and need a new and young labor force, which migrants can provide. But as it is cheaper to keep them unauthorized and easily deportable, many countries such as the United States make it almost impossible to attain a visa for people from certain countries. The unauthorized underclass is needed and desirable even though on the surface the migrants are frowned upon by many in different spheres of influence.

I am asking why we think of people as legal or illegal at this time of globalization. While we promote free movement of goods, money, and information, why is it that we exclude some human beings from this process? Are some human lives really more worthy and desirable because they happened to be born in a certain part of the world?   

 African migrants on their way to Europe  Migrants traveling on top of trains through Mexico

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