Participants in the March 2019 policy consultation sit around a table, at work


Two-Year Georgetown Collaboration Produced Innovative Scholarship, Policy on Refugee Crisis

By: Henry D. Brill

March 10, 2020

The Global Refugee and Migration Project, a two-year collaboration between the Institute for the Study of International Migration (ISIM) and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs generously funded by the Georgetown University Board of Regents, recently came to a close.

Over the course of 2018 and 2019, the project convened scholars, practitioners, and policymakers to consider causes of and solutions to the global refugee crisis, responsible for the forced displacement of over 70 million people worldwide.

Two public conferences, a policy consultation, and a workshop for scholars allowed the two Georgetown partners to produce cutting-edge research with practical implications for refugee policy in the United States and abroad.

​Refugee Integration in the United States

A public conference on “Global Refugees and Migration in the Twenty-First Century” kicked off the project in November 2018. The conference featured experts in U.S. refugee resettlement from both governmental and nongovernmental organizations. 

Participants examined the refugee admissions process and the role of cities in facilitating long-term integration, exploring how the United States could become a more welcoming place for refugees.

Denis McDonough (G’96), former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, closed the conference with a keynote address. He called for a renewed commitment to the American ethos of welcoming refugees and migrants, remarking,

We need to keep being what has made the United States strong for more than two centuries—open, inviting, and constantly renewing ourselves and the idea of America.

​Research for Impact

The project worked toward the goal of fostering a more welcoming environment for refugees and forced migrants by sponsoring two closed-door sessions for scholars and policymakers to produce groundbreaking research papers and policy reports. 

Fifteen scholars researching issues of refugee and migrant integration met at the Berkley Center for a workshop in November 2018. Each presented a paper on local responses to displaced people around the world and received feedback from other participants. 

Papers from the meeting are set to be published over the summer in a special edition of The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science edited by Katherine Donato, director of ISIM, and Elizabeth Ferris, a research professor at the institute.

The workshop was followed by a March 2019 policy consultation that examined refugee integration and reception in three of the top host countries for forced migrants: Colombia, Turkey, and Uganda. 

Experts from host governments, civil society, the United Nations, and academia reflected on the challenges and successes of supporting refugees in those countries. 

The consultation served as the basis for a policy brief that applies lessons learned from refugee integration in Colombia, Turkey, and Uganda to refugee policy on the global, national, and local levels.

In addition to academic and policy publications, the project also published 13 commentary pieces on the Berkley Forum, addressing timely topics such as the 2019 cuts to the number of refugees admitted to the United States.

​Challenges in U.S. Refugee Policy

The project continued to address topical developments in national policy, reflected in its capstone conference on “Current Challenges in Refugee Policy,” held in November 2019. 

Four panels of internationally renowned experts discussed pressing issues in refugee policy, including the treatment of refugee children and procedural justice for migrants in U.S. courts. 

Also at the conference were three Global Refugee and Migration Student Fellows, who presented research conducted with ISIM faculty. The fellowship helped to develop the next generation of scholars and professionals working on forced migration, such as Anna Khandros (G’19). 

“All of my experiences at Georgetown, especially pursuing the ISIM Certificate in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies and this fellowship, really came together when I was applying for a short-term consultancy at the World Bank looking at displacement issues in the Middle East,” says Khandros. “I received the role, and it really made me realize just how much I've learned about the issue of refugees and migration at Georgetown and how well positioned I am for the future as a result.”

Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, provided the keynote address. He noted how the principle of humanity can inspire continued humanitarian work on the refugee crisis:

The principle of humanity is so critical because it provides the moral foundation of our work and it inspires us—advocates, policymakers, citizens who elect policymakers—to promote practices and policies that recognize that there, but for the grace of God, go all of us.

That respect for all members of the human family was at the heart of the conference and the larger project that it concluded. 

​Next Steps in Berkley Center Work

The Berkley Center now begins a new, yearlong project on Religion and the Crisis of Displaced Persons, building on its earlier collaboration with ISIM. 

The center-wide effort will examine how religion factors into the current refugee crisis, considering its role in shaping conflict and peacebuilding, as well as how those on the ground manage and process the trauma of forced migration. It will include a series of events on the intersection of religion and forced displacement and will culminate in a state-of-knowledge report to be released in fall 2020.

The project has already hosted a conversation with Danielle Vella, director of reconciliation and social cohesion at Jesuit Refugee Service. Vella discussed her new book, Dying to Live: Stories from Refugees on the Road to Freedom (2020), which tells the stories of refugees in their own words. 

Later in March, the center will also sponsor a book launch event for Humanity in Crisis: Ethical and Religious Response to Refugees (2019) by Senior Fellow Rev. David Hollenbach, S.J. The new book explores the causes of and presents ethical solutions to the global refugee crisis. 

By conducting interdisciplinary research and convening high-level events around the global challenge of forced migration, the Berkley Center aims to make continued contributions to both scholarship and policy on refugees.