Righting the Wrongs of the Refugee System – Centre for Public Impact (UK)

Extract from an article by Matthew Mercer, Senior Editor

You could say that Alexander Betts leads two parallel lives. Although he lives and works among the gleaming spires, cobbled lanes and tranquil quadrangles of Oxford University, his heart is with the tens of millions of refugees, forced from their homes and now desperate for any safe haven they can find.

As director of the university’s Refugee Studies Centre (RSC), Professor Betts leads efforts to build knowledge and understanding of the causes and effects of forced migration, bridging the divide between scholarship, policy and practice to help improve the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. There is much to do. According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, nearly 34,000 people are forcibly displaced every day as a result of conflict or persecution, meaning that there are now more than 65 million refugees worldwide. He agrees that the need for fresh solutions has become increasingly urgent.

“As the refugee crisis has escalated, there has been growing demand from policymakers for evidence. This has contributed to unprecedented interest in our research,” he reflects. “We have also found that the audience is no longer just governments and humanitarian organisations. Businesses are increasingly engaging in this debate, whether for corporate social responsibility reasons or because they recognise opportunities linked to their core business.”

Betts on better results 

Professor Betts became director of the RSC in 2014. His many areas of focus include the politics and economics of refugee assistance, with a geographical focus on Africa. But when he is not lecturing or running seminars, much of his time is taken up by working with governments and international organisations to improve refugee policies – so, what does this involve exactly?

“If you’re going to do research on refugees and forced migration, you can’t really do that without an aspiration that this will impact people’s lives,” he says. “And the only way to do that is ensure that the research ultimately reaches policymakers and practitioners.” The Centre’s packed slate of ongoing research projects is a testament to the diverse and complex nature of the refugee crisis, and Betts is keen to stress that having a variety of perspectives is crucial.

“We have an interdisciplinary team that covers anthropology, history, law, economics and political science,” he explains. “Across all of those disciplines, in some cases we do field work and in others it is slightly more abstract. But it is all intended to influence the world in some way and goes to a variety of audiences – policymakers, NGOs, UN agencies, businesses and others. We also try to ensure that, where it is appropriate, we work directly with community-based organisations, including refugees themselves. We have collaborations like that in Uganda and Kenya, where we train refugees as peer researchers and we partner with refugee-led community organisations.”

SOURCE: Mercer, Matthew. “Righting the Wrongs of the Refugee System.” Centre for Public Impact, 17 January 2017

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