The Pedagogy of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies

by James C. Simeon

Associate Professor, School of Public Policy and Administration, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, York University

Refugee and forced migration studies has evolved as both a multi-disciplinary and an interdisciplinary field that encompasses several disciplines including anthropology, conflict studies, demography, environmental studies, history, international studies, law, peace studies, philosophy, political economy, political science, public policy, public administration, psychology, sociology, social work, war studies, among others. Within this field of studies there are a wide number of leading academic journals such as the Journal of Refugee Studies, Refugee Studies Quarterly, Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, International Journal of Refugee Law, International Migration, Journal of International Migration and Integration, Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees, among many others.[1] In addition, there are a number of leading texts to draw upon, Guy S. Goodwin-Gill and Jane McAdam, The Refugee in International Law, 4th Edition,[2] James C. Hathaway and Michelle Foster, The Law of Refugee Status, 2nd Edition,[3] Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Gil Loescher, Katy Long, Nando Sigona, editors, The Oxford Handbook of Refugee Studies,[4] Ninette Kelly, People Forced to Flee: History, Change, and Challenge,[5] among others.[6] There are also a number of very valuable online collections of essential documents, cases, academic articles, and other materials for instructors to draw upon for their students in refugee and forced migration studies.[7] It is evident that there is no shortage of educational materials, scholarship, active research, and an ongoing steady stream of academic publications in the field of refugee and forced migration studies. And, while there is a growing literature on teaching refugee and migration studies,[8] the challenge is how the material ought to be presented given the academic program, undergraduate or graduate, whether it is a professional or an arts and science program, part-time or full-time, credit or non-credit, and whether it is introductory, intermediate, or advanced.[9] One should also add the mode of delivery of the course, that is, whether it is in-person, online, synchronous or asynchronous, or hybrid, including, hyflex.[10]  

While all different types of refugee and forced migration studies programs are offered in tertiary educational institutions, in all modes of delivery, one could perhaps make the case that students should be offered an opportunity to take courses that will allow them the chance to interact and learn from and with students in other countries. Likewise, it could be further argued that at some point in their studies students should be given an opportunity to engage in community service learning or community-based learning and gain valuable experience working with organizations that work directly or indirectly with refugees and other forced migrants. Indeed, it could be argued that this should be a central feature in all academic programs in the field of refugee and forced migration studies. [11]

Refugee and forced migration studies is international, of course, by its very nature and scope. Today’s international refugee protection regime is based on the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol,[12] but it is also anchored with separate regional refugee rights instruments: the 1969 OAU Convention for Africa; the 1984 Cartagena Declaration for Latin America; and, a series of European Union Directives but, principally, the 2011 Qualifications Directive.[13] The distinguishing feature of these regional refugee rights instruments is that they have broader definitions of who is in need of refugee protection than what is found in the 1951 Convention. The point here is that given these fundamental aspects of the international refugee protection regime it makes eminent sense to take an international perspective and approach to teaching refugee and forced migration studies. Given the progress of modern digital communications and when most university and college students have access to computers and other mobile devices it is now cost effective to be able to hold classes online with other instructors and students in other countries.[14] We are now in the era of the “global classroom” where students across several countries can hold classes together online, whether synchronously or asynchronously or in some combination of the two. In fact, many universities are doing just that and offer hundreds of courses partnered with different universities around the world. As an example, my courses on the international refugee protection regime have partnered with several universities in the Americas, the Tecnologico de Monterrey (TEC) in Mexico, the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) in Ecuador, and Northwestern University (NU) in the United States.[15] These kinds of Globally Networked Learning (GNL) courses, I have found, engage my students in the course content and materials in unique ways and that they thoroughly enjoy the interaction with students in other countries.[16] When we have asked our students what we could do to improve our GNL courses the students have requested more interaction time with students in other countries.

Giving students the opportunity to do community service learning or community-based learning offers them the chance to gain valuable ‘real world’ experience working with organizations that work directly or indirectly with refugees and other forced migrants. Again, for my courses on the international refugee protection regime I have partnered with OCASI (Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants), COSTI Immigrant Services, UNHCR Canada, the Canadian Red Cross, Save the Children Canada, and others over the years. My students have had the opportunity to work on research projects for these community partners and in the process to learn about their community partner’s organization and programs and make valuable connections that can prove useful for them in the future. [17] Some of my students have continued working with these community organizations well after my courses have concluded and do so either as volunteers or paid staff. This is also referred to as Experiential Education (EE) and is playing a larger role in tertiary education across the globe. Again, these types of EE courses are known to engage students more in their course content and sustain their interest and in the process, they can achieve “deep learning” of course concepts and theories. And, in addition, they provide a tangible benefit to the community partner and their staff and clients and, therefore, the community.[18]

The pedagogy in the field of refugee and forced migration studies programs should include courses that provide students with GNL and community service or community-based learning experiences. By doing so our students, our communities, and our field of refugee and forced migration studies will be the full beneficiaries. And there are tangible benefits for the faculty as well in terms of not only ongoing professional development collaborating with colleagues abroad but the satisfaction of knowing that they are providing their students with deeply meaningful and often transformative learning experiences.

[1] See for instance, International Organization for Migration (IOM), Migration Journals, (accessed August 22, 2023); “Refugees and Forced Migration Studies: Journals,” Northwestern University, Libraries, Last Update, August 4, 2023, (accessed August 22, 2023); “SA 366: Forced Migration and Refugee Studies” Simon Fraser University, Library, Last revised: 2023-08-15, (accessed August 22, 2023); “Journals About Migration,” SFM – Swiss Forum for Migration and Population Studies, unine, Universite de Neuchatel, (accessed August 22, 2023)

[2] Guy S. Goodwin Gill and Jane McAdam, The Refugee in International Law, 4th Edition, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021).

[3] James C. Hathaway and Michelle Foster, The Law of Refugee Status, 2nd Edition, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014

[4] Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Gil Loescher, Katy Long, Nando Sigona, eds, The Oxford Handbook of Refugee Studies. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014)

[5] Ninette Kelly, People Forced to Flee: History, Change, and Challenge. UNHCR (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022).

[6] There are too many to mention here, but the following are worth considering: Refugee Research Network (RRN),; USA for UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency, “Read for Refugees: Six books about refugees that everyone should read,”; Martha Kielland Rossack (until 2020), International Law Observer, “Migration and Refugee Law: Relevant Literature,“ (accessed August 22, 2023).

[7] The Refugee Law Reader, Cases, Documents and Materials, (accessed August 22, 2023); UNHCR, refworld, (accessed August 22, 2023); Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies (CARFMS) Online Research and Teaching Tool (ORTT), CARFMS – ORTT, (accessed August 22, 2023); LERRN: The Local Engagement Refugee Research Network, (accessed August 22, 2023); REACH, Harvard Graduate School of Education, (accessed August 22, 2023); Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER), Faculty of Education, York University, (accessed August 22, 2023); UNHCR Global Website, (accessed August 22, 2023); UNRWA, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, (accessed August 22, 2023); International Organization for Migration (IOM), UN Migration,

[8] Some examples including Brittany Murray, Matthew Brill-Carlat, Maria Hohn, Migration, Displacement, and Higher Education, Now What? Springer Open Access, 2023, (Accessed August 29, 2023); Teaching Migration Studies, Section, Migration Studies, (accessed August 29, 2023); UNHCR, “Teaching About Refugees,” (accessed August 29, 2023); Vibeke Solbue, Yuka Kitayama, Ailbhe Kenny, editors, “Forced Migration in Education: Challenges and Opportunities,” Research Topic, Frontiers, Frontiers in Education, Frontiers in Human Dynamics, Frontiers in Political Science, (accessed August 29, 2023)

[9] A Google search of “Educational Programs in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies” resulted in about 14.9 million results in 0.45 seconds. (accessed August 22, 2023)

[10] Columbia University in the City of New York, Office of the Provost, Columbia Centre for Teaching & Learning, “Hybrid/HyFlex Teaching and Learning,”,What%20is%20HyFlex%3F,Blended%20Learning%20to%20learn%20more). (accessed August 22, 2023)

[11] The benefits of community service learning and community-based learning are well known and accepted. See for example, Carleton University, “The Benefits of Community Service Learning on Student Engagement, Retention, and Success: A Review of the Literature,” undated, (accessed August 29, 2023)

[12] Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Geneva, 28 July 1951, in force April 1954, 1989 UNTS 137 and the Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, New York, 31 January 1967, in force 4 October 1967, 19 UNTS 6223, 6257.

[13] Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (10 September 1969) 1001 UNTS 45 (1969 OAU Convention), The successor to the OAU is the African Union (AU), which was created in 2002. Declaración de Cartagena sobre Refugiados, adopted during the Coloquio Sobre la Protección Internacional de los Refugiados en América Central, México y Panamá: Problemas Jurídicos y Humanitarios, held in Cartagena, 19-22 November 1984 (1984 Cartagena Declaration). European Union, Council of the European Union, Directive 2011/95/EU of the European Parliament and the Council of 13 December 2011, on the standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted (recast), 20 December 2011, and for the content of that protection, 20 December 2011, OJ L. 337/9-337/26; 20.12.2011, 2011/95/EU,

[14] The pivot to online instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic certainly demonstrated the value of online instruction during a global health emergency. See Charlotte Snelling, “Lessons from the pandemic: making the most of technologies in teaching,” Universities UK, December 20, 2022, (accessed August 23, 2023)

[15] York International, Globally Networked Learning, York University, (accessed August 23, 2023); See also SUNY COIL, Connect, Engage, Collaborate, (accessed August 23, 2023) and Center for International Education and Global Strategy, University of Albany, State University of New York, “About Coil,” (accessed August 23, 2023)

[16] GNL courses are also referred to as Globally Shared Learning (GSL) and Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) courses. See Tecnologico de Monterrey, Globally Shared Learning, (accessed August 23, 2023) and COLLAB, Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL), “About COIL,” (accessed August 23, 2023)

[17] The community partners always select the research projects that they want completed and I consult with them on whether the research projects would meet the needs of our course. The community partners always determine a small portion of students’ overall final grade based on their work for the community partners.

[18] “The Benefits of Community Service Learning,” Mount Royal University, (accessed August 23, 2023); Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, “Community Service Learning and Community Based Learning as Approaches to Enhancing University Service Learning,” October 28, 2014, (accessed August 23, 2023); “Pedagogy of Experiential Education,” Centre for Pedagogical Innovation, Brock University, (accessed August 23, 2023)