More about Forced Migration

"What is Forced Migration?" An interactive definition

Broadly speaking, forced migration is what it sounds like: being forced to move, to migrate, to uproot oneself and one’s life and relationships. Forced migration is a much broader and far-reaching phenomenon (or set of phenomena) than what someone might gather from a scan of the headlines.

Some key questions to ask: who is considered “deserving” of the term refugee and the protections it can provide? What forms of force are considered to “justify” migration? Typically, war and genocide come to mind, but what about political persecution? climate change? incarcerationAs a society, we have to pay more attention to the structural similarities between displacement due to war and displacement due to climate change rendering a place unlivable, to give just one example. Both of these “causes” of migration are themselves results of social, economic, and political violence that have emerged from the current world order, even though our laws and conventions currently privilege one “cause” over the other. 

Here are several of the research sections under the “Explore” tab that offer helpful, new lenses for understanding the complexities and range of experiences that fall under forced migration:

Counting Forced Migrants: Methods, Impact, and Improvements

Recognizing that forced migrants are more than their numbers, this bibliography section aims to interrogate the methods and impact of counting forced migrants by compiling sources that ask: who quantifies forced migration and how do they do it? Compiled by Elijah Appelson.

Labels and Media Framing: “Refugee” and “Migrant”

This section investigates the terms “refugee” and “migrant” in their social and legal constructions, demonstrating the impact of those labels on our thinking and questioning the distinction between both words. Compiled by Naima Nader.

What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Forced Migration?

What is visible about forced migration and those who experience it is not always the full picture. This section uses a transnational collection of books, articles, and films – some produced by people who’ve experienced displacement themselves – to present a more nuanced image of displacement.Compiled by Matthew Brill-Carlat.



Frequently Asked Questions About Forced Migration

We invite you to dig into recurring and deceptively simple questions: what is life like for people on the move? What are refugee camps? What has COVID-19 meant for people forced to migrate? Explore the resources below, and the rest of the themed bibliography sections linked to below, to learn more. 

  • The labels of “refugee” and “migrant” can determine how much assistance someone gets to rebuild their life after being forced to move, but the terms themselves often reflect preconceptions held by media outlets and everyday people. Read more in this collection of resources on Labels and Media Framing: “Refugee” and “Migrant”
  • Forced migration is not a new phenomenon, as the narratives of descendants of Indigenous Americans forced from their lands in the 19th century remind us. 
  • The “Forced Migration of Enslaved People in the United States, 1810-1860” project (through the University of Richmond’s “American Panorama”: full authorship credits here) uses firsthand accounts and data visualization to commemorate the 850,000 enslaved people forcibly relocated (taken by owners or bought and sold) to the American West and South after the legislated end of the international slave trade in the US but before the end of slavery.
  • As climate change continues to wreak havoc on people’s lives and livelihoods, more and more communities will be forced to move in order to survive. Can our current system of international law, with its rigid categories of “refugees,” “migrants,” and “displaced persons” accommodate this reality? Read scholar Maxine Burkett’s thoughts: “In Search of Refuge: Climate-Induced Migration and the Legal Frontier,” Analysis from the East-West Center (January 2011)
    • Climate-related displacement is disproportionately impacting indigenous communities around the world, including in the United States, and the whole community on Isle de Jean Charles community, of mostly Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw people, is being relocated. Coral Davenport and Campbell Robertson, “Resettling the First American ‘Climate Refugees’,” New York Times, May 2, 2016
  • Let’s connect the dots between two more of the most pressing challenges of our time: mass incarceration and forced migration. Learn more about how they are connected in this section of our bibliography: The United States Prison System Viewed as a System of Forced Migration.
José Palazón, photo of a border fence between Spain and Morocco, with article by Ashifa Kassam, The Guardian, October 23, 2014. 

FAQs compiled by Matthew Brill-Carlat (Winter 2021)