Research chairs will anchor knowledge on forced displacement in the Global South

Research chairs will anchor knowledge on forced displacement in the Global South

14 December 2021

More than 80 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes, reported the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2020. They have left because of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations, economic hardship, climate change, and prolonged instances of political instability. The women and children among them bear the brunt of the difficulties associated with their often precarious conditions. 

Although developing countries host 80% percent of the world’s forcibly displaced, the policies and practices governing the lives of these populations have had to draw on available research that mostly comes from developed countries. National and local knowledge about forced displacement, grounded in the experiences of those who have fled and of their host communities, remains largely untapped. This localized knowledge is crucial for the development of long-lasting solutions to the challenges of forced displacement.  

Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is investing CAD4.4 million, in 2021 alone, to establish research chairs on forced displacement in Global South universities. Open, competitive calls for proposals in the Middle East and East Africa and in South and Southeast Asia and Central and South America have led to the selection of eight universities that will create research chairs based on the objectives they have identified.

Each university will receive up to CAD600,000 over five years to carry out inter-disciplinary and multi-sectoral research, while integrating approaches to transform discriminatory gender norms. Their efforts to select the chairholders are underway.

Together, they will contribute significantly to the field of study on forced displacement from a Global South perspective, committing to excellence in research and teaching and to mentoring young scholars. The chairs will also focus on promoting strong linkages to community-level research and initiatives as well as to national and global policy processes.  

Here are the first eight universities selected in 2021 and their research-chair plans:  

The Middle East

American University of Beirut, Lebanon  

Lebanon hosts the world’s largest per-capita concentration of displaced persons, including Palestinians, Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis and others. The university will create a research chair to focus on the well-being of forcibly displaced children and adolescents, which are predominant demographic groups in the Middle Eastern region. Using participatory methods, the research will address access to health and educational opportunities for displaced children and adolescents and challenges in transitioning to adulthood and accessing labour markets. It will also study how to foster sustainable and inclusive economies in a context of gender inequities and environmental stressors such as lack of water and food. The program will serve as a regional hub for community-engaged research that centres in particular on displaced youth.

Université Saint-Joseph de Beyrouth, Lebanon

The School of Social Work at this university will establish a research chair focusing on Lebanon in particular as well as Syria, Jordan, Iraq and the West Bank. Priority research areas will include tensions between displaced Syrian communities and Lebanese host communities, the well-being and social rights of displaced children, youth and members of LGBTQ communities and preparations for repatriation. A committee comprising researchers, policymakers and host and displaced community representatives will advise the research program.  

East Africa

Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

Ethiopia hosts more than 800,000 refugees and over 3 million internally displaced persons. The College of Education and Behavioural Sciences at Addis Ababa University will establish a chair on forced displacement to address the complex vulnerabilities faced by these populations. It will prioritize legal frameworks, governance, and security and protection services related to forced displacement; economies and livelihoods; education; health and psychosocial support; and inclusion for women, minorities and persons with disabilities.  

University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

The research chair in this university will be housed in the Department of Geography. The chair will study livelihood security and social and legal protection for conflict-displaced refugees and people, such as pastoralists and farmers, who have been internally displaced by climate, the creation of conservation areas and large-scale investment projects in Tanzania and Uganda. Using case studies, the research chair will prioritize the views and coping mechanisms of displaced people to define a demand-driven and action-oriented research agenda and outreach program.  

Latin America

Universidad de Guadalajara, Mexico

The Public Policy Department at the Universidad de Guadalajara will establish a research chair on forced international migration, with a focus on inclusion and human rights protection in education and governance in Mexico. Through research and policy engagement, the research chair will foster learning on the challenges faced by people who have been forcibly displaced from their countries of origin and promote the visibility of female migrants and their struggle for inclusion. The university is planning interdisciplinary academic activities at the local, national, regional and global levels to develop a collective research agenda and provide new local perspectives and solutions to forced displacement challenges.  

Universidad del Pacífico, Peru

To be established by the Vice-Presidency for Research of this Peruvian university, this research chair aims to establish a sustainable migration research agenda on forced displacement in South America, involving key actors such as scholars, policymakers, cooperation agencies, civil society actors, and migrants. The economic, social, and political crisis in Venezuela leading to displacement and the migratory journey in the region are some of the planned areas of study. The research chair will forge national and international partnerships, as well as foster growth opportunities for early-career researchers. The research will also make public policy recommendations at the regional level.

Southeast Asia

Chiang Mai University, Thailand

The Regional Center for Social Sciences and Sustainable Development at Chiang Mai University is establishing a research chair to understand forced displacement in Southeast Asia and provide solutions for displaced communities. The chair will study migration due to political and religious conflict, large-scale resource acquisitions, natural disasters, and infrastructure developments. The chair will develop inclusive, post-secondary educational opportunities for displaced youth and adaptive livelihood strategies, with a particular emphasis on the intersecting challenges of gender inequality and ethnic exclusion. The chair will also be directly engaged in supporting scholars, activists and civil-society actors who have fled to Thailand. The aim is to bridge knowledge gaps and link to policy formulation throughout the region.

Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand

The chair at this university’s Department of Gender and Development Studies will have a regional focus on the Greater Mekong Sub-region (Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam) and South Asia (Bangladesh). The chair will highlight research on gender and forced displacement in contexts of unstable democracies, rising authoritarianism, and where forcibly displaced populations are most vulnerable to disasters and the impact of climate change. The chair will challenge the narrow understandings in forced- displacement research of gender, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression — issues that are largely invisible in research and policy processes.  

IDRC plans to support an additional four research chairs in West and North Africa, as part of longer-term engagement on forced- displacement issues.  

Durable solutions for the forcibly displaced

A crucial component of this initiative is the support for networking, coordination and mutual learning among the research chairs. The Local Engagement Refugee Research Network at Carleton University, Canada, will facilitate engagement and collaboration among the chairs, as well as the synthesis of findings and learning from the different regions.  

Research and evidence that connects the lived realities of displaced people with policymakers at local, national and global levels is essential for the achievement of durable solutions. This initiative will create critical knowledge and research, led by institutions in the Global South, that can help inform not only local and national policies, but also global discourse and actions.