The Refugee Research Network (RRN) has been created to mobilize and sustain a Canadian and international network of researchers and research centres committed to the study of refugee and forced migration issues and to engaging policy makers and practitioners in finding solutions to the plight of refugees and displaced persons. This initiative builds on previous efforts towards establishing a global network of researchers in the field of refugee and forced migration studies funded by the Canadian SSHRC Knowledge Cluster program.
In 2004, with the support of a SSHRC Strategic Research Clusters Design Grant, the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University organized a refugee research cluster. In this first phase of the project, we focused on establishing relationships among researchers across Canada, identifying principles to guide a refugee research cluster and developing a research agenda in collaboration with colleagues in the public and NGO sectors. We held consultations in Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton with academics, policy makers and practitioners who provided input into the research issues that they would like to see addressed and the kind of research network they would like to be part of. We determined that the cluster would provide a systematic and dedicated space for the sustained interactive engagement of three sectors: Canadian and international researchers, NGO partners and government policy makers. This cross-sector approach would ensure that the issues identified are relevant to the refugee field, that the relationships to sustain the research are in place and that the dissemination will be timely and appropriate. We decided that the cluster would be grounded in the experiences of refugees and forced migrants and in the practices and policy making of those who seek to support them; responsive to emerging ideas among new and established scholars and practitioners; and, flexible, able to form research teams appropriate in size, skills and perspectives to the issues being examined. Our cluster image was that of a web with multi-coloured threads to identify different communities of refugee research that are rooted in Canada but reach around the world.
We developed a matrix of refugee research issues that identified key temporal stages of the refugee experience (pre-migration, migration and post-migration) along with crucial aspects and issues related to the experiences of refugees (displacement and protection, health and healing, and representation, community and identity). A concept paper “A Cross-Sector Research Agenda for the Protection of Refugees and Forced Migrants” was submitted to SSHRC in October 2005 and is available at this LINK.
In the fall of 2005, new funding was secured from the SSHRC Clusters Interim Program. This funding was used to strengthen the Cluster, supporting research networks and increasing dissemination. A new Canadian association of researchers, policy makers and practitioners in the field of refugee and forced migration studies was initiated. A refugee research list serve was formed and quickly had over 140 members from Canada and around the world. The ties between CRS and the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) were strengthened. CCR formed a research committee supported by CRS academics to organize research presentations at the semi-annual CCR consultations and facilitate ongoing discussions.
In June 2006, CRS hosted the 10th annual conference of the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) and supported CCR in hosting the International Refugee Rights Conference, both at York University. The two conferences overlapped to maximize the contact and communications among the Canadian and international academics who dominate the IASFM conference and the practitioners from Canadian and international NGOs who attended the refugee rights conference. The relationships among and between Canadian and international scholars and students intensified as did the connection between CRS and IASFM. CRS is now an institutional partner of IASFM and the Director Susan McGrath is President. CRS Coordinator Michele Millard supports the website and listserv of IASFM.
At the IASFM10 conference, Canadian academics and practitioners were invited to meet and consider the formation of a Canadian association of researchers. The response was enthusiastic. In November 2006, with the support of the SSHRC Interim Cluster grant, a group of academics and students formed the Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies (CARFMS).
Over the past few years the RRN has started to create a new intellectual space in refugee research with a rich pool of expertise across the country including academics, practitioners and policy makers who have developed active research agendas. The network is having a synergistic effect, generating new knowledge in the field and increasing the impact of that knowledge through stronger relationships and new communication strategies. There is increased connectivity among individuals and institutions within Canada and globally. New associations are emerging: the CARFMS, the RRN, and our global network of refugee research centres. With the full development of the project, the RRN will be well placed to facilitate the engagement of researchers across the country with colleagues around the world, the formation of focused research groups on law and public policies, interactions of academics with the public and practice sectors, and the full transfer of knowledge created locally and globally.