VT’s International Refugee Research Project was prompted by discussions about the refugee crisis of 2015 among the following international partners: the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech, Bundeswehr University/Munich, Akademie für Politische Bildung, Tutzing Germany, University of Kent, Brussels, and the University of Bucharest, Romania. The project is driven by a mandate to produce research to inform policy decisions related to refugees, at all levels of social and political activity. The project operates on two-year research cycles, with partners undertaking field research on an agreed common research question, the coming together to report their findings in an international conference. For this first research cycle, the research question was measurement of the level of refugee integration in host communities.
The research team has been working since 2016, bringing together a multi-disciplinary, methodologically diverse group of faculty, students and alumni. At Virginia Tech, that included representation from across campuses in History, English and the Center for the Study of Rhetoric in Society, Political Science, Human Resources, Biocomplexity Institute, Architecture, Economics, VT Engage, the Office of International Research, Education and Development, the. Institute for Policy Governance, Marriage and Family Therapy, Science and Technology Studies (STS), the Global Forum on Urban and Regional Resilience, the office of the Vice President for Outreach and International Affairs, and the School for Public and International Affairs (SPIA). Generous support from the Global Forum and the vice president’s office made this first stage of research possible. SPIA coordinates this project.
Consultations were held with non-governmental institutions and policy-makers’ staff throughout the research process. At VT, a workshop was held in October 2017, to report on preliminary research and findings.
International partners came together in a conference that was held between March 23-25, 2018 in Tutzing, Germany, organized by the Akademie für Politische Bildung in cooperation with Bundeswehr University. Scholars, students and alumni, policy-makers, and civil society representatives, gathered to discuss pressing issues related to refugee integration. Participants were welcomed by the director of the Akademie, Prof. Ursula Münch, Prof. Manuela Pietrass of Bundeswehr University, VT Vice President for Outreach and International Affairs, Dr. Guru Ghosh, and SPIA director Prof. Joel Peters.
The conference was opened by Kelly Clements, Deputy High Commissioner for the UN Refugee Agency (UNCHR), and a SPIA alum. She offered an overview of the challenges of managing increasing refugee flows around the globe, related human stories of despair and resilience, and talked about the role of institutions of higher education in providing data and analysis to inform policy.
Conference activities included a pre-conference tour of agencies working with refugees in Bavaria. Caritas manages two projects: Project NUR provides psychological services for foreigners; and Project Kulturbrucke (Cultural Bridge) provides a space for newcomers to Germany to explore social and cultural ties in community with natives Germans. The pre-conference ended with a reception and presentation hosted by the office of the Mayor of Munich. Municipal Counselor Manuela Ohlhausen offered a welcome address, and Franziska Szoldatits talked about how the city of Munich welcomed and managed refugees, with a permanent resettlement goal.
The conference lasted two days and covered topics such as historical cases and the lessons that could be gleaned from them in the current climate of over 68 million of displaced people around the globe (Michael Meyer and Brett Shadle), case studies of refugee journeys from war-torn countries to Europe (Hamza Safouane) and Mali (Susanne Schultz), similarities and differences in refugee policy among EU member states (Arne Niemann, Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels, Dawn Cutler and Georgeta Pourchot), a close look at how Germany handled the refugee flow since 2015, including how to manage spontaneous volunteers, and how to provide refuge via church communities (Katrin Hirseland, Susanne Fischer, Dieter Muller, Petra Bendel), measurement and methodological approaches, including through social media and synthetic data (Christian Matheis and Eli Jamison, Claire Kelling, Samarth Swarup), the role of philanthropy in refugee resettlement (Sabith Khan), the case study of the Blacksburg refugee partnership which now measures 600 volunteers working with six ‘new comer’ families (Khaled Hassouna, Katrina Powell, Katherine Randall), the trauma of war on refugees (Teresa Koloma Beck), civil infrastructure and community capacity for integration (Gary Kirk), resettlement, human protection and lessons that can be learned from Japan (Deborah Milly), cases of Iraqi refugees resettled in the United States (Jake Keyel), and Syrian refugees in Jordan (Kee Jeong Kim). The breath and depth of research spans the globe and the research team is both energized to continue this work, and interested to expand the international partnership.
Congratulations to the VT team on a successful conference with European partners. A policy brief will consolidate the data and recommendations informed by this research, and released in May.
For more information, contact Georgeta Pourchot, firstname.lastname@example.org.