Policy Project: Migration and Displacement

Worldwide displacement is at a record high, as war, persecution, instability, poverty, natural disaster and climate change have resulted in the displacement of approximately 60 million people are displaced globally, 38 million of whom are internally displaced. While migration and displacement are not new phenomena, the unprecedented levels of current displacement have triggered intense political debates, regional and local humanitarian responses, and protection challenges for migrants, including vulnerabilities of moving through armed conflict areas, risks associated with exploitation and mistreatment during transit, insecurity of refugee camps, detention, and processing centers, changing policies in countries of transit and arrival, and the need for longer-term solutions.

The work of the Advanced Training Program on Humanitarian Action (ATHA) in this thematic area aims to contribute to the humanitarian sector's efforts to enhance the protection of migrants, refugees, and internally displaced persons. Through undertaking research and convening discussions among experts and practitioners, ATHA is focused on bridging the gap between theory and practice to address the key drivers of vulnerability among migrants and displaced persons, and foster a space for humanitarian practitioners to engage in professional exchange about challenges and dilemmas relating to sustainable humanitarian responses to migration and displacement.

Below are resources produced by ATHA, as well as by other programs of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.

Yurvi and Tatiana stand in the ruins of their home in Nikishino, eastern Ukraine. The couple's home was hit during fighting in the village and was completely destroyed. (c) A. McConnell/UNHCR

Politics of Aid in Ukraine

April 2016

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Two years of conflict in the Donbas region of Ukraine has continued to intensify since early March of this year. An estimated 3.1 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, particularly in terms of protection, unimpeded access of humanitarian agencies, continuous supply of water, food and emergency shelter, and other critical services.

Yet aid remains highly politicized in this conflict, complicating humanitarian access and operations. Most recently, the Ukrainian government has suspended social payments and started a verification process projected to affect over 600,000 registered IDPs... MORE

Mount Gourougou, overlooking Spanish Melilla, was cleared of migrants by the police in February / Image (C) IRIN News

In the Same Boat: Morocco’s Migration Lessons for Europe

January 2016

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This year, hundreds of thousands of people crossed the Mediterranean and Europe’s eastern borders seeking refuge. But while global attention was fixed on the boats struggling through the waves, or huddled behind barbed-wire borders, little thought has been given to what happens next. Europe will soon find itself facing the dilemma of how to manage its newest residents - a challenge that Morocco has already faced. 

We are in the same boat.

#InTheSameBoat is a campaign created by a Harvard University field study exploring the lessons that Europe... MORE

Refugees at Vienna West Railway Station during the European migrant crisis 2015. Image (C) Bwag/Commons

Data Collection and Refugee Protection

December 2015

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As the numbers of migrants and refugees entering Europe continue to increase, data collection and analysis, particularly through mobile technology, social media, and crowdsourcing, provide humanitarian actors with key insights into critical protection gaps and emerging trends. Yet the growing use of information technology over the last decade has also introduced new concerns regarding the ethics, security, and utility of data for the humanitarian sector. While expansive data collection has created opportunities for more effective aid delivery to displaced populations, humanitarian agencies must also address the growing need for... MORE

Migrants and asylum seekers queue up at Mytilene Port on the Greek island of Lesvos waiting for police clearance.  © Louisa Gouliamaki/IRIN

Responding to the Refugee Crisis in Europe

September 2015

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A global refugee crisis is rapidly unfolding in Europe. Driven by protracted conflicts and persecution in countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Eritrea, increasing numbers of refugees are making the dangerous journey in smugglers’ boats across the Mediterranean toward Greece and other European shores. European Union (EU) governments, international humanitarian organizations, and local agencies are struggling to address the influx of hundreds of thousands of displaced arriving at their borders. Existing legal, policy, and operational approaches to humanitarian protection have proven insufficiently adaptable to... MORE

Melissa Fleming

Innovation Series - Protection in Protracted Refugee Crises: An Interview with Melissa Fleming

August 2015

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In this episode, ATHA's Anaïde Nahikian speaks with Melissa Fleming, Chief of Communications and Spokesperson for the High Commissioner, at UNHCR, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They discuss the priorities for UNHCR in addressing the key drivers of vulnerability for displaced populations, and the generational consequences of protracted refugee crises -- looking particularly at the conflict in Syria and the Mediterranean migration crisis. They also explore the relationship between media, public opinion, and humanitarian policy in this context and how humanitarian actors can enhance... MORE

Innovation Series - "Bottom Up" Innovation: an Interview with Alexander Betts and Louise Bloom

August 2015

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In this episode, ATHA's Anaïde Nahikian speaks with Louise Bloom, Research Officer at the Humanitarian Innovation Project at the University of Oxford, and Professor Alexander Betts, Director of the Refugee Studies Centre, also at the University of Oxford.

The Refugee Studies Centre aims to build knowledge and understanding of the causes and effects of forced migration in order to help improve the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. A project of the Centre, the Humanitarian Innovation Project seeks to identify ways in which technology, innovation, and the private sector can enhance... MORE

Children walk through a sandstorm in Tillaberi region, Niger (Feb 2012)  © Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN

Climate Change and Displacement: Addressing Protection Gaps

December 2014

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Climate change and environmental degradation are increasingly becoming a humanitarian issue. Variability in climate, as well as in increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, is disrupting livelihoods, driving displacement, and contributing to conflicts over increasingly limited natural resources. While climate change is impacting lives on a global scale, the populations most likely to be affected – those already vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters – are also the least able to cope, particularly due to poverty, state fragility, geographic vulnerability, resource insecurity, low resiliency or legacies of... MORE

Conflict Migration: Assessing the Approaches to Rehabilitation

October 2014

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On World Refugee Day this year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people worldwide has exceeded 50 million people. Humanitarian organizations are currently struggling to address the needs of these displaced populations, due primarily to protracted armed conflict and other situations of violence. Existing legal, policy, and operational approaches to humanitarian protection are increasingly insufficient to keep up with patterns of conflict-related migration in North Africa and the Middle East, for example. Some argue that humanitarian interventions... MORE

Briefing Papers

In The Same Boat: Morocco’s Experience with Migrant Regularization

January 2016

Objectives of This Paper

This collective policy paper summarizes the main themes of Morocco’s recent experience around migration policy. It draws upon many conversations with major stakeholders, group work, and site visits. We believe that thus far potential lessons from Morocco’s migration experience have generally been neglected in the current discourse around migration. This paper will draw out a number of ways in which this case is interesting and relevant for Europe. Ultimately we see potential lessons clustered around two main themes: the necessity of agile and fluid frameworks in formulating policy for the status of migrants, and the prerequisite (in formulating this policy) to grant space and voice to civil society. We hope that the ideas in this paper will challenge and inform policymakers as they seek to address this issue, which will continue to be present for years to come.

Blog Entries
Refugees and asylum seekers wait to regisert outside the LaGeSo in Berlin  © Julia Brooks

Refugees Welcome in Germany? Please Take a Number

October 2015

A long line forms most days in front of the “LaGeSo” – the Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales, or State Office of Health and Social Affairs. LaGeSo operates as the central registration center for refugees in Germany’s capital, Berlin. Here, refugees stand in line for a numbered ticket, then wait an unpredictable further amount of time for their number to be called. When their number is called they can then officially register as asylum seekers, which is necessary in order to gain access to social benefits including housing, financial assistance, healthcare and most importantly for their ability to remain in Germany in the longer term, the opportunity to file an asylum application. For months, up to 2,000 newly arriving men, women and children have been... MORE

A Syrian refugee detained at the border police station in Elhovo, Bulgaria on October 22, 2013  © Jodi Hilton/IRIN

Why is the Temporary Protection Directive Missing from the European Refugee Crisis Debate?

October 2015

Europe is in crisis. Over 475,000 asylum-seekers have arrived by sea across the Mediterranean this year alone, with 84% coming from the world’s top ten refugee-producing countries. Many are also coming by land, though the numbers are much more difficult to ascertain. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the recent surge in people seeking protection in Europe is unlikely to stop soon: it is projected that Europe will receive over one million asylum applications in 2015; at least 450,000 thousand of these applications are expected to be granted. The Temporary Protection... MORE

These Iraqis, resting in the village of Tovarnik, arrived recently from Serbia (Andrei Pungovschi/IRIN)

#RefugeesWelcome: How Smartphones and Social Media Empower Refugees and EU Citizens and Bring Change to European Refugee Policies

October 2015

This guest blog post comes to us from Tina Comes and Bartel Van de Walle. Tina and Bartel are Senior Fellows at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI). Tina is Associate Professor in ICT at the University of Agder, Norway, Deputy Director of the Centre for Integrated Emergency Management, and Vice-President of the ISCRAM Association. Bartel is Associate Professor in Information Management in Tilburg University in the Netherlands. Together, they have been conducting field-research on humanitarian information management, decision-making and coordination in the response to the Syria crisis, in the Philippines, and in the West African Ebola Crisis.

Last week, the European Union’s interior ministers made a long awaited but controversial decision... MORE

 Aid groups distribute food and other relief items every month to the refugees since the camp opened in June 2013. The camp hosts both Muslim and Christians and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) insists that the camp should remain secular. Sectarian violence by the Islamist Boko Haram rebels has driven off thousands of Nigerians from their villages.  © Otto Bakano/IRIN

Data Insecurity: Refugee Protection in Light of Emerging Technologies

September 2015

The use of biometrics by humanitarian agencies is quietly nearing its thirteenth birthday. As one of the first adopters of this technology, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has increasingly used biometric data collection technology, which includes fingerprinting, iris scanning, and facial recognition software, since 2002. According to the UNHCR, this technology is a tool to prevent and deter fraud while ensuring faster and more accurate registration of refugees. Because humanitarian agencies must learn and record names, addresses, and family and tribal information to ensure an individual qualifies for refugee status and to accurately distribute benefits, the collection of this potentially sensitive data is a key element of the humanitarian aid methodology. Moreover, UNHCR argues that identity verification is... MORE

Emanuel and Jonata fled indefinite military conscription in Eritrea, only to find themselves in a Libyan detention centre  © Tom Westcott/IRIN

Widespread Detention Practices Run Afoul of International Legal Protection for Refugees and Asylum Seekers

June 2015

Refugees and asylum seekers are facing increasing difficulties accessing international protection as the international community and host nations struggle to respond to the record 51.2 million displaced persons worldwide, including 16.7 million refugees. In many countries receiving large numbers of irregular migrants, the detention of refugees and asylum seekers, often en masse, has become commonplace, running afoul of international human rights law and refugee protections.

While the detention of asylum seekers is not prohibited outright, international refugee law and international human rights law place severe restrictions upon the practice. Under IHRL, everyone has a right not to be subject to arbitrary detention: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person … No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile” (Art.3 and 9, UDHR; Art.9 (1... MORE

Families carrying home their share of food, Oromi IDP camp, Kitgum District, northern Uganda, 18 May 2007. © Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

With Internal Displacement on the Rise, International Law Leaves Protection Gap

May 2015

More people are fleeing conflict and violence than ever before on record, with the number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons (IDPs) now exceeding 50 million people. Amongst these, IDPs — who are displaced within their country of origin — account for the largest portion, reaching a record 38 million people in 2014, according to a new report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). Yet unlike refugees, who by definition have fled across an international border, IDPs do not benefit from the special status or specific rights and protections afforded to “refugees” under... MORE

Reactive Policies Remain Insufficient to Prevent Migrant Deaths

April 2015

This guest blog comes to us from Professor David Polatty. David teaches military strategy, maritime security, and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) in Newport, Rhode Island, and is a co-founder and co-director of the NWC College of Operational & Strategic Leadership - Harvard School of Public Health “Joint Civilian-Military Humanitarian Working Group.”

The tragic deaths of as many as 900 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea last week appear to have been a call to action for not only the European Union (EU), but the international community at large. After intense media scrutiny of this horrific event within a much wider and intensifying migration crisis, EU politicians finally came together to reexamine ways to mitigate risks to vulnerable populations. While the UN... MORE

Deserted street in Aleppo, Syria © George Kurian/IRIN

Syria’s Arbitrary Denial of Consent Keeps Aid from Reaching Syrians in Need

December 2014

With the Assad regime severely limiting international humanitarian access to Syria, most international relief efforts have focused on addressing the needs of the over 3.1 million Syrian refugees in the region, including over a million each in Lebanon and Turkey, and hundreds of thousands each in Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. The humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees in the region are enormous, and significant gaps remain in the humanitarian response to the regional refugee crisis. Just this week, the World Food Programme (WFP) announced that it was... MORE

Refugees in Lebanon live in very challenging circumstances, as in these makeshift homes in the Beka’a Valley (C) Areej Abu Qudairi/IRIN

As Syrian Refugee Crisis Worsens, Critical Needs Go Unmet

October 2014

As the Syrian refugee crisis continues, host countries and the international community are struggling to meet the growing needs of Syrian refugees, resulting in a significant humanitarian gaps. The ongoing ISIS-led offensive on the Northern Syrian town of Kobani has driven over 150,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees across the border into Turkey since last month, despite US-led airstrikes on ISIS positions... MORE

In 2008, Palestinian refugees fleeing violence in Iraq were denied access to Syria and ended up stuck between the Iraqi and Syrian borders in al-Tanf camp. Phil Sands/IRIN

Palestinian “Double Refugees” Victimized Many Times Over

September 2014

The displacement of Palestinians is not a new phenomenon. Since the 1948, when war led to the founding of the State of Israel, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have lived as foreigners in Syria and other neighboring countries. However, as the Syrian conflict enters its third year, thousands have had to flee for a second time.  These twice-displaced Palestinians are finding themselves with fewer rights and protections than those accorded to other refugees. Perversely, this dire situation is the direct result of PLO, Hamas, and UNRWA policies—three groups that purport to act on behalf of the Palestinian diaspora.

Jordan and Lebanon—two relatively stable countries in a sea of instability—have been among the primary destinations of people displaced by the Syrian conflict. In addition to more than 2 million Syrian nationals, Jordan and Lebanon have collectively accepted an estimated 54,000 Palestinians who had been living in Syria.  Yet, in 2013, both countries... MORE

Coastguards help a woman fleeing Tripoli to disembark from a boat arriving at Lampedusa port  © Kate Thomas/IRIN

Conflict Migration on the Mediterranean: An Overshadowed Humanitarian Crisis

September 2014

The number of irregular migrants crossing – and dying in – the Mediterranean Sea has surged in recent years, fueled by conflict and instability on the Sea’s southern shores. Since January, an estimated 124,380 have landed in Europe; the majority in Italy (108,172), followed by Greece, Spain and Malta. That’s over twice the number from last year (60,000), 2012 (22,500) and 2011 (69,000). While the European Union (EU) attempts to secure its borders against this influx of irregular migration, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding at its border. UNHCR recently reported that 1,889 Europe-bound migrants have drowned so far this year, with most of these deaths taking place in the last three months.  

The main departure point for migrants crossing the... MORE

Global Refugee Crisis and the Mass Migration ‘Revolving Door Pattern’: When Refugee Producing Countries Become Refugee Hosts

July 2014

Commemorations for the 14th World Refugee Day[1] on 20 June drew to a close as the United Nations reported a sharp increase in the number of forcibly displaced persons worldwide,bringing new depth to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR)’s 2014 theme of “One family torn apart by war is too many.” An alarming 51 million people have thus far been involved in mass migration movements; 10.4 million of them now classify as ‘refugees of concern.’[2]

The causes of this dramatic surge need not be described at length; suffice it to say that internal and transnational conflicts are currently crippling countries from Africa’s Great Lakes region to the Near and... MORE

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