No Place Like Home? Policy Workshop on refugees and forced displacement

Report by Sigrid Lupieri

On Friday, 20 September, scholars, policymakers and participants with a refugee background gathered at Clare Hall for the workshop No Place Like Home? New Perspectives on Displacement and the Modern Refugee System.

Panel discussions saw attendees reflecting on the future of ‘durable policy options’ for refugees and on the need for a more global and comprehensive framework for responsibility-sharing and support for host communities during refugee crises. In fact, to date, international responses to refugee crises have mainly focused on three ‘durable options’: third-country resettlement, local integration into host communities, or volunteer repatriation.

These policy choices, however, are failing to overcome the challenges of declining resettlement opportunities, resistance from host countries, and prolonged conflicts in countries of origin. As a result, two-thirds of refugees currently live in a protracted situation.

A particularly moving moment for many came during a presentation by Alexandra Chen - a psychotherapist and researcher at Harvard - who described her personal experiences working with children in distress and spoke about the hidden costs of displacement on the mental health of young and vulnerable children. Other panellists discussed the challenges - including attacks on aid workers - of delivering healthcare to refugees in the Middle East, and the overall failure of global political systems in protecting vulnerable refugee populations.

The packed day of presentations, discussions and networking also featured keynote speeches by Sir Stephen O’Brien (former Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs), Sanjayan Srikanthan (Executive Director, IRC Europe), and Professor Alexander Aleinikoff (Director of the Zolberg Institute and former UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees). Other speakers included Dame Barbara Stocking (former NHS director and chief executive of Oxfam GB), Dr Akihiro Seita (UNRWA) and Philippe Leclerc (UNHCR).

The overall aim of the workshop is to build a network among scholars, policymakers and refugees to find avenues for collaboration, and to help bridge the divide between those who formulate international policies, those who implement them, and the refugees who are ultimately affected. Towards the end of the day, participants reflected on the main title of the workshop - No Place Like Home - and on the meaning of ‘home’ when there is no home to return to. As one of the speakers commented: “Is home always the place you left behind?”

Finally, a big thank you to Clare Hall for hosting the event, especially to the catering staff, accommodation and hospitality officers, and the Boak Student Support Fund for making this workshop possible.

Other funders and partners include the Global Challenges Research Fund, Research for Health in Conflict (MENA), The Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement, Cambridge Global Challenges, and the Centre for Business Research.

A selection of photos of the day is available here. Photo credit: ©Lucinda Price