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Wilfrid Laurier University Office of Research Services
December 10, 2016
Canadian Excellence


The Island Detention Project

What is the Island Detention Project?

Research on migration often focuses on how easily people integrate into new host societies or on changes in socioeconomic status and living conditions between the country of origin and country of destination.  In contrast, there has been little consideration of zones of transit and transition between country of origin and final destination; that is, the remote and often tumultuous sites migrants travel to and through on their journeys to new locations.

This project examines these journeys between states. The researchers are tackling this understudied issue by investigating islands as particular sites where struggles over migration, asylum, and sovereignty transpire and where federal mandates of national security and refugee protection intersect. Islands are often sites where jurisdiction, political status, and legal status intersect in complex ways. The research questions ask why particular islands become sites of migration management, how migrants arrive on islands, and what legal issues ensue. Qualitative and quantitative methods have been used to collect data on American, Australian, and European islands that are sites of migration entry and processing.  The resulting data will be used to map offshore efforts to enter sovereign territory and corresponding enforcement practices.

Research findings will advance knowledge on global migration and contribute to contemporary debates about immigration, border enforcement, and asylum policies. The project will offer new ways of understanding what happens to global migrants on their journeys between states, including the role of interception at sea, detention on islands, and human rights issues. 

For more information on the Island Detention Project please contact Dr. Alison Mountz at

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0847133. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. 

Project Research Team

The projectís research team consists of a Principal Investigator (Dr. Alison Mountz), Postdoctoral Fellow (Dr. Jenna Loyd), three Research Assistants (Tina Catania, Kate Coddington, and Emily Mitchell-Eaton), cartographer Rob Fiedler, and web designer Millie Rossman. The team began field research in several sites in 2010 and will complete field research in 2012.

Alison Mountz, Principal Investigator
Dr. Alison Mountz is Associate Professor of Geography and Canada Research Chair in Global Migration at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and Wilfrid Laurier University. Her current research examines struggles over border enforcement, asylum, and detention. In 2010 Mountz published Seeking Asylum: Human Smuggling and Bureaucracy at the Border (University of Minnesota Press). In this monograph, she examines how Canada and other countries respond to human smuggling with changes in border enforcement. Seeking Asylum was awarded the 2011 Meridian Book Prize from the Association of American Geographers. Mountz teaches and advises students researching migration and political geography, directs the research team, and runs the educational initiatives of Geographies of Sovereignty: the island detention project.

Jenna Loyd, Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr. Jenna Loyd is a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Geography, Syracuse University.  Before joining the Island Detention project, she held postdoctoral positions at the Center for Place, Culture and Politics at the CUNY Graduate Center and in the Humanities Center at Syracuse University. While living in Los Angeles, she became involved in the immigrant justice movement, particularly concerning the ways in which immigrant detention builds on the broader US prison regime.  She coedited a collection called Beyond Walls and Cages that seeks to bridge the immigrant justice and anti-prison movements.  Her research on the Islands project traces the onshore-offshore continuities of US detention practices.

Tina Catania, Research Assistant

Tina Catania is a doctoral student in the Geography Department at Syracuse University. Her Masterís thesis explored constructinos of identities along the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work on the island detention project focuses on refugees and migrants from Africa and the Middle East to Italy. As part of the Islands team, she conducts research on Lampedusa and Sicily.

Kate Coddington, Research Assistant
Kate Coddington is a doctoral student in geography at Syracuse University. Her dissertation examines the emergence and effects of migrant and Aboriginal 'geographies of containment'--including migrant detention in Darwin, Australia. Her research for the islands project took her to Christmas Island, Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, and Indonesia.

Emily Mitchell-Eaton, Research Asssistant
Emily Mitchell-Eaton is a doctoral student in geography at Syracuse University, where she recently completed a Masterís degree in Public Administration. Emilyís research interests center on migration and state management of human mobility. As a member of the research team, Emily carries out research on the islands of Guam and Saipan.

Rob Fiedler, Cartographer
Rob Fiedler is a doctoral student at York University. His research explores (sub)urban transformation in Toronto, Canada. He maintains a keen interest in the use of geospatial technologies for critical analysis of the changing geographies of cities and urban regions. Rob brings to the Islands Project expertise in handling and analyzing spatial data, as well as their transformation into cartographic representation (i.e., mapping!).

Map of Island Detention Sites

A composite map that shows a number of sites where asylum-seekers are detained. Some are field sites on the project, others are sites of interest which the project follows. Link to map. Courtesy of Syracuse Cartography Lab.