Dissertation Refugees Coming

(for more information, please contact Dr. Susan McGrath (link is external) at smcgrath@yorku.ca (link sends e-mail))

This list of research themes and questions has been developed by the Refugee Research Network (RRN) at the Centre for Refugee Studies (CRS) at York University to encourage the generation and mobilization of research on refugees in Canada.  While the questions came out of Canadian experience, we hope there will be enough material that can be adapted in other contexts.

These priority areas of research are drawn from two reports generated by the practitioner community. The first, entitled: A Sector-Based Research Agenda: Issues Affecting Government-Assisted Refugees in Canada, was published on November 15, 2010, and compiled by Chris Friesen (ISS of BC) and Jennifer Hyndman (CRS). This research agenda focuses on government-assisted refugees and emerged in consultation with representatives from service providers across Canada. The second, entitled: Refugee Integration: Key concerns and areas for further research, was published on December 23, 2011, by the Canadian Council for Refugees (link is external). The report emerged through a consultation with settlement practitioners, private sponsors, academics, and other stakeholders to identify priority concerns regarding refugee integration.

We invite faculty and students to work with us in responding to this community-generated research agenda. The field of refugee studies is interdisciplinary and all interested scholars are encouraged to engage with this project – whether from the professional programs, the arts, or the social sciences. While some of the research questions listed below may already have been addressed by researchers, the issues raised by the practitioner community would seem to indicate that the knowledge produced may not have been sufficiently disseminated. A useful response in these cases would be to develop comprehensive literature reviews and make them widely available online. Alternatively, there are questions that have not been extensively researched and could be studied in term papers or major research papers.

Students who participate in the project will have their peer-reviewed literature reviews and research papers posted on the RRN website (www.refugeeresearch.net (link is external)) as a resource and have an opportunity to submit their work for presentation at community-based and academic consultations and conferences. Travel support will be provided by the RRN to a number of students who have their research accepted for presentation at these events. In addition, students will receive training in developing research summaries from the Knowledge Mobilization Unit at York, where they will learn how to write about their work for non-academic audiences.

Researchers are expected to put the welfare of refugees first in any studies they undertake and to respect the principle of ‘do no harm’ that Mary B. Anderson (1999) outlined in her work on humanitarianism aid some years ago, i.e. no research should be undertaken if it has potentially harmful consequences in policy or practice to refugee welfare[1] . Our goal in compiling this community-generated research agenda is to improve the experiences of refugees and the policies and practices that support them. We acknowledge and understand that research can be put to unintended uses; as a result, it is important for students working on these questions to consider the potential impacts of the knowledge they produce.

  1. Settlement outcomes


  • What are the settlement outcomes for refugees (e.g. labour market participation, use of provincial income support, impact of language requirement for citizenship, impact of religion/spirituality)?
  • What factors contribute to barriers/successes and how can longitudinal settlement outcomes be measured?
  • How should integration be measured? (E.g. alternative approaches to outcome measurement with regards to employment success and other integration factors; considering refugees’ ‘sense of belonging’ as measure of integration.)

By immigration category & length of time in Canada

  • What are the differences in a) eligibility for, b) availability of, and c) uptake of settlement assistance services among GARs, PSRs, Refugees Landed in Canada, and non-refugee immigrants, across the provinces?
  • How do the differences between refugee categories (i.e. inland refugees, GARs, and PSRs) impact settlement and integration experiences?
  • Are there differences in integration experiences between different groups? (E.g. first and second generation refugee families; refugee children and children from other categories of immigration.)
  • What are the consequences for inland refugee claimants of waiting for their claims to be processed? (Anecdotal evidence suggests that hardships experienced in the initial years in Canada can have profound and long-lasting consequences for integration.)
  • What are the impacts of temporary status experienced by refugee claimants and those coming from protracted refugee situations?


  • How do refugees find their first job?
  • How does immigration status on arrival interact with other factors to influence access to employment over time? (Longitudinal study following first 5 years after arrival.)
  • What is the impact of access to provincial employability programs on arrival?
  • How do language, discrimination, education, and other factors influence access to employment upon arrival and over time?
  • Do refugees face particular issues with respect to credential recognition and accessing appropriate employment? (E.g. are there psychological barriers to “starting again” that may prevent some refugees from getting their credentials recognized?)
  • What might be some innovative ways for refugees with work experience in their home countries to use their skills? (Anecdotal evidence suggests that many refugees have transferable skills that go unrecognized.)
  • What are the experiences of older adult refugees in relation to access to employment and labour market integration? (E.g. issues related to limited use of English/French. fragile health.)
  • What are some alternative methods for measuring employment success?
  • Do refugees face discrimination in the labour market?

Health, mental health, and trauma-related issues

  • What are the mental health issues of GARs (government assisted refugees) and what treatment models and/or approaches are culturally appropriate?
  • What are some affordable alternative ways of maintaining mental health? (E.g. social groups, physical activity, nutrition, etc.)
  • Are there barriers to the uptake of mental health services by refugees? (E.g. issues around concepts of mental health; stigmatization of mental health.)
  • What physical health issues do refugees face? (Including HIV/AIDS.)
  • What are the health needs of older adult refugees and of refugees with disabilities?
  • What are the impacts of health issues on social and economic integration?

Language training programs

  • What are some of the barriers that refugees face in accessing existing language training programs?
  • What are some of the shortcomings of existing language training programs for refugees? (E.g. lack of adaptation of language training for people who are illiterate or have low levels of education; lack of job-specific language training.)

Housing issues

  • Do refugees face barriers in terms of access to housing?
  • Does discrimination based on refugee status play a role in the housing market?
  • What are the housing experiences of refugees outside of major urban centres?
  • What is the impact of regionalization and of specific settlement areas on individuals and families?
  • What is the relationship between place and housing experiences? (E.g. big city, small community; type of neighbourhood.)
  • Is there a role for cooperative models of housing for refugee settlement?

Other economic issues that affect settlement

  • Transportation loans
    • How does refugees’ repayment of transportation loans impact their settlement and integration outcomes? (E.g. employment, language acquisition, high school completion rates. Particular attention to impacts on individual refugees versus families, as well as on youth.)
  • Remittance obligations
    • What are the impacts on integration of refugees with family members abroad to whom they have financial responsibilities?

Settlement program coordination & evaluation

  • Does centralization of settlement services in urban centres form a barrier to integration? (E.g. differences in access to settlement services outside of urban centres or where services are centralized; comparison of experiences between smaller communities and larger cities.)
  • Can an evaluation framework be developed that addresses outcomes, is agreed upon by service providers and funders, and does not require the reallocation of resources from programs?
  • Do particular pilot programs or experiments lead to improved outcomes for refugees? (E.g. Local Immigration Partnerships as good model of coordination.)
  • Could alternative models of settlement program coordination be used?
  • Do different provincial jurisdictions have an impact on access to settlement services and mainstream social welfare services?
  • How well are various services coordinated within regions?
  1. Government Assisted Refugee (GAR) youth
  • How well are GAR youth settling in Canada over time? How do family and integration-related factors/needs impact GAR youth’s settlement and high school completion rates?
  • How do single/lone parents raising refugee youth who have daycare needs and are attending regular school fare?
  • What are GAR youth’s experiences with accessing employment? (E.g. lack of access to employability programs.)
  • Do refugee youth have unique education needs and if so, what are they and how can they be addressed?
  • Need for longitudinal studies to follow youth progress over time.
  1. Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP) funding
  • Does the limited RAP funding structure reflect the different needs of refugees, especially the (perceived) higher medical requirements of GARs who arrived after new selection criteria were implemented under the 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA)?
  • Is there a way to allocate settlement resources that corresponds to different levels of need for post-IRPA refugees?
  • How effectively does RAP income support the settlement and integration of GARs? (Does it set them up for failure?)
  • Cost-of-living or livelihood studies would be helpful – in large cities where costs are higher, a large study that documents food bank access would be relevant.
  1. Family reunification
  • What is the impact of delayed family reunification on refugees? How do family dynamics change (including gender relations) and does this impact settlement?
  • How do delays in reunification affect single/lone parents who face the double stress of raising children alone and supporting a spouse abroad?
  • What are the integration experiences of refugees arriving with their families and how do those compare to those of refugees arriving alone and awaiting reunification?
  • What has been the impact of the moratorium on applications for sponsorship of parents and grandparents?
  • What challenges do refugees face due to family separation? (E.g. mental health issues; economic responsibilities, remittances.)
  1. Pre-arrival information-sharing
  • How effective is pre-departure training for refugees? What is its impact on settlement outcomes?
  • What gaps, if any, exist in pre-arrival orientation and information-sharing, and how can they be filled?
  • Critical content analysis of orientation abroad materials would be valuable.
  1. Destination policy
  •  What factors should be considered in destining refugees? Which factors drive secondary migration? What factors drive retention?
  • How many refugees from one ethnic/national group should be destined to a specific location in order to maximize retention?
  • How can better matches be created between destination and refugees’ needs?
  1. Protracted refugee situations (PRS)
  • What are the settlement needs and outcomes of refugees from protracted situations compared to those from shorter term displacements? (Especially in terms of health and mental health needs and outcomes.)
  • Do refugees from protracted situations require a special program that addresses their learning needs as these relate to language and professional training? (Development of a ‘Protracted Refugee Benchmark’ to address this?)
  1. Discrimination & stereotyping
  • How can discrimination/prejudice against and stereotypes of refugees be addressed in host communities?
  • What tools can be created to educate Canadian communities to dispel stereotypes and help prepare for the arrival of newcomers? (E.g. public awareness campaigns about the situations of claimants awaiting status determination.)
  • What approaches can be followed to educate locally elected government representatives on the needs of the refugee population in their jurisdictions?

[1] Anderson, M. B. (1999) Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace or War, Boulder CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers; 3rd Printing edition.


Like many millions of people, I have watched the Syrian refugee crisis unfold and felt helpless to act. But until my friend Eva Alisic contacted me, I had never thought specifically about how we might be able to use our skills as researchers and academics to help.

Eva Alisic is Co-Chair of the Global Young Academy (www.globalyoungacademy.net) and co-organized the expert meeting on the refugee crisis. She is a psychologist and blogs at www.trauma-recovery.net. Karly Kehoe is Canada Research Chair in Atlantic Canada Communities and co-chair of the Young Academy of Scotland (http://www.youngacademyofscotland.org.uk/). She is a historian who investigates religious peripheries and migrant minorities. In this post they tell us what they have been doing and challenges us all to think about how our skills as researchers can be applied to these problems.

Refugees waiting near the ferry terminal in Lesvos, Greece. © Tom Turley.

About 60 million people are currently displaced around the world as a result of conflicts and human rights violations. This displacement is being referred to as the largest refugee crisis since World War II. In the first four months of 2016, over 180,000 people have arrived in Europe.

We are facing one of those ‘wicked problems’ that seem impossible to solve. Every day media outlets show new images of human suffering, confront us with opinions about the perils associated with the movement of so many people, and scare us with stories about how this movement of people is threatening the essence of Western society.

We are facing a wicked problem – there’s no doubt – but is it really one that can’t be solved? If we break it down into a series of smaller ones, would that give us the opportunity to come up with solutions?

There are pockets of hope opening up around us, in all of the countries that are receiving refugees. There are countless local communities, individuals and organizations who are leading grassroots campaigns of support. Governments and NGOs are trying to come up with solutions but they are facing numerous obstacles which are slowing their progress and inhibiting their abilities to develop solutions.

In December, we brought a group of young experts in refugee and migration issues together because we wanted to see if we could come up with a ‘fresh perspective’ on the crisis, with a specific focus on Europe. Our participants’ subject areas included history, victimology, urbanism, international relations, public health, and engineering, among others. These backgrounds informed incredibly rich discussions.

We covered a lot of ground as you can read about in this PDF . As we kept talking to each other, what started to become clear was that what might actually be happening is more a crisis of solidarity than one about refugees. The conversations resulted in what we hope is a thought-provoking video about this dilemma (see below).

What also became clear to us was that we, as a research community, can and should be doing more.

As readers of the Thesis Whisperer, you are coming from around the world. You may be in a European country and seeing media headlines about the crisis every day; you may be in an area where other issues dominate; or you may actually be living in a conflict zone.

Most of you, though, will be in a place where you are safe, but where refugees are close by. Among them will be students, PhD candidates and early career researchers just like you. They are being forced to start their research careers at a significant disadvantage. They have important stories to tell, and a lot of potential. How can we, and you, help to facilitate their paths?

We challenge you to take up one of the options below, if you haven’t already. These ideas come out of the young expert meeting on the refugee crisis. The full report can be downloaded here.

What can you do to further our understanding of the refugee situation?

There is knowledge in every discipline that is useful in helping to address the refugee crisis. It doesn’t matter whether you are a construction engineer, who can think about clever housing solutions, or a linguist, who can help think through ways of language education. You have specialist knowledge – how can it be applied here?

Can you mentor young refugee students/academics?

Is there a way you can get involved with programmes that offer mentorship to young refugee students or early-career researchers? How might you work with your local university associations or asylum seeker centres to extend a hand of support? Collaboration is easier to manage than individual initiatives in this respect. The Young Academy of Scotland, for example, has just introduced a refugee/scholars-at-risk membership initiative which will see four spaces (two for women and two for men) allocated in each of their next three recruitment rounds. This initiative promises to help people to access the professional networks that will enable them to build successful careers in Scotland.

Can you help create a more informed debate about the refugee crisis?

If you have relevant knowledge, please don’t hesitate to share it with journalists and other academics, especially via blogs and social media (so it doesn’t take months or years to come out…). Be proactive and responsible with your research. Can you translate your findings into a video, or a magazine article that will get a wide audience?

We hope that our comments don’t come across as if we are only concerned about those refugees with academic qualifications or research ambitions because we aren’t.

As academics, though, there are specific things that we can do to help and ways that we can support those who are working with and/or volunteering for refugees in our wider communities. We have access to significant resources that many people don’t, so we need to think about how we can share what we have.

Please spread the word, and also share below which activities you have in mind; it will be an inspiration for others.

You might like to view the video that came out of our meeting:

We’d be interested in hearing your ideas and thoughts on this issue – have you been doing anything specific to help? We’d love to hear about it.

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