Research Project (Ongoing)

Research on the Evolving Humanitarian Action for Forced Migration

Recent humanitarian crises triggered by disasters and environmental degradation, conflicts and instability, poverty, and the COVID-19 pandemic have all featured the forced movement of large numbers of people. The needs and insecurities associated with forced migration dictate the directions and extent of humanitarian action in response to crises of all kinds and across geographical contexts. In turn, population movements and related humanitarian action may result in profound transformations that shape both local societies and global interactions. Understanding what happens to people who must forcibly move, how their assistance and protection needs evolve over time, and how response actors can effectively meet them is an essential humanitarian and development concern for any society.

Forced migration encompasses very different situations: short-distance, internal movements and distance, internal movements and long-distance, cross-border ones; short-term, protracted, or even permanent displacement; and movement towards planned or unplanned locations, where people will receive different kinds and levels of assistance by different actors. The specific lived experiences of displaced persons are substantiated by interactions and engagements with a diversity of humanitarian actors as they collectively confront the uncertainties and insecurities related to forced movement. Humanitarian actors may have different institutional setups, mandates, and capacities. Still, they all share the same objectives to save lives and reduce suffering in the short term, preserve people’s dignity and support recovery, and contribute toward achieving durable solutions to displacement in the long term. As crises unfold, the concerns of forced migrants persist and evolve, and so do the responsibilities of different humanitarians, who need to adapt to (and address) this changing landscape. Thus, this research project focuses on the evolving role of humanitarian actors in responding to the continuously changing needs of different people across diverse forced migration contexts.

This research project is an exploratory investigation of humanitarian action assisting forced migrants. It will seek evidence on humanitarian action in recent forced migration situations, including:
(1) how the modalities and types of assistance (available and needed) for forced migrants evolve over time; and
(2) how the situation of displaced persons who cannot (fully) access available support and assistance is accounted for and addressed.

The intersection of humanitarian action and forced migration creates critical implications for humanitarian action: displaced persons and their needs are at the core of humanitarian interventions and the organization of the whole humanitarian system. Hence, this research project concentrates on the question: “How have humanitarians navigated their evolving roles in supporting displaced people in forced migration?”. Under this overall approach, it focuses on identifying and describing the changing landscape of humanitarian action for different population groups experiencing forced migration.

This project explores the evolving humanitarian action supporting displaced populations through five case studies that look into assistance and support to (and engagement with) displaced children, women, people with disability, older people, and migrant workers. Each case study will present a narrative on the evolution of humanitarian action for a specific group of forced migrants and in specific forced migration contexts.

Consistently with other development and human security studies, studying forced migration is advocacy, policy, and practice-relevant research. This research fits within current, globally-recognized policy priorities on forced migration and displacement, spelled out, among others, in the Global Compacts on migration and refugees, at the International Migration Review Forum and through the work of the UN Migration Network, and further articulated by the High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement and more recently through the UN Secretary General’s Action Agenda on displacement. It also aligns with recent evolutions in other policy fields, including the increased attention to human mobility under climate change negotiations following the adoption of the Paris Agreement and the creation of the Task Force on Displacement under the Warsaw International Mechanism.

While this study intends to contribute to academic and policy efforts in a field growing increasingly central to global discussions across sectors, it also attempts to specifically support and inform the work of humanitarian actors assisting diverse groups of forced migrants. The outcomes of this work will improve our collective understanding of forced migration phenomena and contribute to tangible, more effective responses to this crucial issue.