Lise Lafontaine, May 13, 2019

Home and Away: Closing the Gap Between Global Refugees and Their Host Countries

When challenges abound, be the solution.

Short of a natural disaster, most Canadians cannot imagine being forced from their homes, let alone their country. Try picturing living in limbo for upwards of 20 years and struggling to access the basics: food, shelter, health care, education and work, for you and your family. Now imagine what it takes to be as innovative as refugees are to navigate these challenges every day.

Because for refugees, that is their reality. Every day, another 44,000 people worldwide—half being children under 18—must go into exile due to violence and conflict, according the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees. International aid cannot keep up with the growing needs of the 25.4 million refugees globally.

Such situations are compounded by the limited flow of information from and to refugees themselves and researchers and practitioners who work directly with refugees in their host countries. Their voices are largely absent from global discussions on how to respond.

Experts with published and policy-influencing research on refugees tend to be in industrialized and wealthy countries. Yet, a disproportionate 85 per cent of refugees are in exile in the Global South—the low- to middle-income countries that neighbour those affected by conflict. Even before refugees arrive, host countries may grapple with their own challenges with essential services and infrastructure.

Another disparity exists because policies from post-World War II still guide responses to today’s refugee situations. The United Nations 2018 Global Compact on Refugees provides some useful tools. Still, Carleton University professor James Milner wants to narrow the gaps between research, realities, and solutions to the plight of refugees and their host countries.

To that end, Milner and his partners have assembled the Local Engagement Refugee Research Network (LERRN) to use evidence-based research as the basis of improved responses to refugee situations. For this $3.68-million, 7-year project, LERRN academics chose to start with Tanzania and Kenya in East Africa, and Jordan and Lebanon in the Middle East. They selected their countries of choice based on suitability for comparative research, and broader recommendations of states in need, compiled by non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

How will LERRN help?

  • Research: Projects are based on priorities identified by partners who work closest to refugees. Milner commends the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for awarding LERRN a $2.5M grant that gives LERRN “the flexibility for its working groups to set priorities and identify research projects most suited to the specific country.”
  • Training and capacity-building: LERRN will coordinate useful and usable training workshops and materials for NGO workers, graduate students, and members of refugee-led organizations and media. The aim is to improve their capacity to share their perspectives during policy development at local to international levels. Kenya will host LERRN’s first training institute in August 2019.
  • Knowledge mobilization: Research results, protocols and methodologies will be shared widely via direct outreach at UN events, through open-access digital resources at Carleton and in print by McGill-Queens University Press. Six emerging scholars from refugee-hosting countries will each spend six months in Ottawa to share knowledge, and complete both a placement with an NGO and a visiting scholar fellowship at Carleton.

LERRN’s working groups are already setting workplans and engaging with key constituents, ranging from national services and community organizations to refugee-led organizations. Together, they are building communities to start new discussions and find practical, timely, effective and equitable approaches to refugee situations.

In 2019, LERRN began recruiting its first cohort of postgraduate students from diverse disciplines at Carleton, uOttawa, York and McGill. In all, up to 48 Canadian students will be paired with graduate students in Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon and Tanzania to collaboratively undertake fieldwork. Before leaving Canada, the first cohort will attend a course on refugee studies at York, followed by a research methods and fieldwork course at Carleton on technical training as well as the ethics, safety and security of cross-cultural research placements.

By hosting LERRN’s project secretariat, Carleton graduate, undergraduate and work-study students are also gaining valuable insight about what it takes to run multi-partner, multi-year and multi-national projects. Milner is proud that Canada is rallying partners to connect research to real solutions to pressing needs.

LERRN partners include NGOs like Oxfam, CARE and Journalists for Human Rights as well as academic partners from the following universities: Carleton, York, uOttawa, McGill, Dar es Salaam, Moi, Jordan, American Lebanese, Georgetown, Wollongong and Oxford. Plus, representatives from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Global Affairs Canada, International Development Research Centre, and Network for Refugee Voices form LERRN’s advisory board.

By 2025, success will mean Global South perspectives are integral to refugee policymaking and responses. Milner also wants LERRN solutions to be viable beyond the project and accessible anywhere to inform and empower those who can affect change and afford rights to refugees.

For every 11 people in Jordan, 1 is a refugee, so constituents are eager to participate in LERRN, including Jordanian academics and representatives from refugee-led and civil society organizations, and NGOs. Photo from the launch of LERRN’s Jordan Working Group at the Centre for Strategic Studies in Amman, in January 2019.

While 85% of the world’s refugees remain in the global South, well over 85% of published research on refugees come from researchers based in the global North. At the International Development Research Centre in September 2018, LERRN partners Maha Shuayb, Lebanese American University, James Milner, Carleton University and Dulo Nyaoro, Moi University participate in a workshop on the importance of promoting research capacity in regions of refugee origin.

LERRN is working in partnership with humanitarian NGOs, such as CARE, to provide research and evidence to enhance responses to refugee situations. James Milner, professor of political science at Carleton University with Simran Singh, senior humanitarian at Care Canada

With the support of the Network for Refugee Voices, LERRN is working to ensure that the perspective of refugees is better reflected in the research process. Milner meets with Burundian refugees in Tanzania who decided to pursue naturalization in Tanzania as a solution to their 40+ years in exile.

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