Academic journal article Refuge

Ethical Considerations: Research with People in Situations of Forced Migration/Considerations En Matiere D'ethique De la Recherche Aupres De Personnes En Situation De Migration Forcee

Academic journal article Refuge

Ethical Considerations: Research with People in Situations of Forced Migration/Considerations En Matiere D'ethique De la Recherche Aupres De Personnes En Situation De Migration Forcee

Article excerpt



Research involving people in situations of forced migration deepens our understanding of their experiences and has the potential to inform evidence-based decision-making, but also poses particular ethical challenges and opportunities. This document is intended to provide researchers, community organizations, and people in situations of forced migration with information on the particularities of forced migration contexts to complement established ethical principles and frameworks on research with human subjects more generally. They draw on good practices identified in a scan of civil society and government documents and academic literature (see appendix 3 for a list of resources).

Forced migration research contexts are particular several ways:

1. People who flee across borders are subject to legal rights and opportunities that are different from those for citizens born in the host country. The right to remain in the host country can be revoked or jeopardized on the basis of data collected during research. Given this precarious legal status, researchers working with people in situations of forced migration need to carefully consider ethical obligations to minimize risks.

2. Displaced people are often in situations of unequal power relations where they depend on sponsors, service providers, and/or the government for survival and/or legal status. This extreme dependence may call into question the voluntary nature of consent to participate in research conducted by, or in partnership with, such organizations.

3. Given the operation of groups deemed to be engaged in terrorism (2) in countries of origin and asylum, research may run into conflict with anti-terrorist legislation. For example, research respondents may disclose links to, or express sympathy with the objectives of, groups deemed to have terrorist aims. Because researchers are not protected by similar legal privileges for doctors and lawyers, there may be limits to confidentiality of information, posing ethical challenges.

4. Throughout the process of asylum, displaced people are called upon to tell their story many times: to immigration officials, to legal professionals, to service providers, and to decision-makers. Researchers' questions may add to the burden of recalling painful experiences of conflict, violence, violations, and abuse.

5. While academic research has the potential to contribute to improved policy and programming for people in situations of forced migration, findings are not always shared with displaced people and non-academic partners in an accessible and timely manner.


In this document, research is defined as any activity that involves data collection and knowledge creation with and by people in situations of displacement. This includes, but is not limited to, interviews, focus group discussions, surveys, experiments, observation, and access to case files, administrative data, and auto-ethnographies involving third-party participant data collection. It should be noted that not all of these research activities are necessarily subject to Research Ethics Board approval; however, this document sets out principles of good practice that should be considered whenever research is undertaken in contexts of forced migration.

"People in situations of forced migration" includes a broad spectrum of displacement, including refugee claimants, those with refugee status, people whose refugee claims have been rejected, trafficked persons, and internally displaced persons. The ethical considerations set out in this document apply to all groups who have been forced to leave their homes, not just those individuals who have refugee status.

Guiding Principles

Our research with people in situations of forced migration will be guided by the following key principles:


We will strive to make our research relationships as equitable as possible, by being conscious of power dynamics and guarding against risks of abuse of power. …

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