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Refugee Law Initiative’s key role in building research capacity on ‘internal displacement’ in affected countries


The work of the Refugee Law Initiative (RLI) at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, has been boosted by two new grants (a total of £210,000) from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) to help build research capacity into the growing problem of internal displacement - people made homeless in their own countries.


The awards are to set up ‘engagement networks’ in which researchers in countries affected by conflict and displacement lead the development of collective research agendas. The aim is to avoid the problem of northern hemisphere researchers just being ‘parachuted in’ to address local problems, usually in the southern hemisphere. These are thought to be the first such networks to link ground-breaking research on this development challenge with innovative responses and practices, and with policymakers.

RLI director, and leader of its newly-launched research programme on internally displaced persons (IDPs), Professor David Cantor, a key figure in both projects, said: ‘We are delighted to be involved in creating networks that can use local understanding and expertise to build capacity to tackle the pernicious problem of internal displacement. This is an understudied area of humanitarian concern and one which exacerbates long-term development challenges in affected countries.’

In 2017, more than 5 million people were displaced by conflict in sub-Saharan Africa, and 2.5 million by ‘natural’ disasters. Led by Dr Romola Adeola from Pretoria University in South Africa, with Professor Cantor as co-investigator, the £150,000 project to create a Global Engagement Network on Internal Displacement in sub-Saharan Africa (GENIDA), involves academic researchers and policymakers from a range of African countries with large IDP populations. They will spend two years working together to find innovative solutions to the region’s issues around development and internal displacement.

At the same time, the one-year £60,000 INDCaP Development Award project led by Professor Cantor will begin developing a small interdisciplinary network on displacement, conflict and protection with regional hubs in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

The team of international academics are Dr Beatriz Sánchez (Universidad de los Andes, Colombia), Dr Romola Adeola (Pretoria University), Dr Hana Asfour (Q Perspective), a Jordan-based specialist on refugees and displacement, and Dr Agnes Woolley (Birkbeck). They will work with in-country researchers and other key stakeholders in countries across the three regions to design solutions to protection in contexts of conflict and displacement that are sensitive to local context.

‘The prospects are really exciting,’ adds Professor Cantor, whose research in this area has helped to shape United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) protection policy for refugees, asylum-seekers and IDPs. ‘If we can create vital, sustainable networks, then that would be a wonderful bridgehead for facilitating overdue social policy changes to transform the lives of internally displaced persons.’