Gang-Related Asylum Claims: An Overview and Prescription

26 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2008


Over the last several years asylum cases relating to activities of criminal gangs have greatly increased in frequency. Cases involving Central American gangs, the so-called maras, have attracted the most attention but similar cases have arisen out of South Eastern and Eastern Europe as well. Applicants in such cases face a number of difficulties as their cases do not fit into paradigm categories for asylum claims. These cases almost always involve non-state actors, for example, acting for reasons that are not, at least at first glance, clearly political. Additionally, the reasons why gangs target particular individuals often do not obviously fit into one of the traditional protected grounds. If applicants fleeing gang activity are to successfully apply for asylum they will have to overcome these apparent difficulties. In this paper, a contribution to the University of Memphis Law Review Spring Symposium on immigration reform, I break down gang-related asylum claims into three main categories and show how at least some cases in each category fit within the area set out for protection by asylum and refugee law. I briefly discuss a conceptual framework which explains how some gang-related cases should be seen as falling in the area that asylum law seeks to protect (thereby providing a concrete example of the sort of protection that I claim in my dissertation refugee law is meant to provide) and give advice to practitioners about how to formulate meritorious claims.

Keywords: asylum, refugees, refugee law, immigration, maras, gangs, social group

Suggested Citation

Lister, Matthew J., Gang-Related Asylum Claims: An Overview and Prescription. University of Memphis Law Review, Vol. 38, No. 4, Available at SSRN:

Matthew J. Lister (Contact Author)

Bond University Faculty of Law ( email )

14 University Drive
Robina, Queensland 3125

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