SPIA’s International Refugee Research Conference: “How can we measure the level of refugee integration in host communities?”

2018-04-20T16:20:02+00:00 March 23rd, 2018|

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, then
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, georgeta@vt.edu.

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