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Understanding Humanitarian Responses to the Global Refugee Crisis


Project Description

This proposal aims to explore the motivations underpinning local humanitarian responses to the global refugee crisis. Forced displacement has reached an all-time high (UNHCR 2016). With the advent of the Syrian conflict in 2011 and resultant refugee flows of a scale not seen since World War II, responses to supporting refugees fleeing from conflict have needed rethinking as the situation began to be described as a “crisis”. Countries adjacent to Syria received millions of refugees with initial attempts to build temporary accommodation centres ineffective, and the majority of those displaced residing in cities. State responses to forced migration revealed several inadequacies in emergency management of humanitarian crises. Few of the collaborative efforts to overcome the challenges of forced migration addressed difficulties encountered by vulnerable groups. The introduction of the Community Sponsorship Scheme (CSS) in the UK in 2017 followed pressure from grassroots communities for the UK to make a greater contribution to the support of vulnerable refugees. The scheme, based on the long-established Canadian programme, allows community groups to raise funds to bring a vulnerable refugee family to the UK. They must identify housing, school places and appropriate medical care and provide all social support for a period of at least 12 months.

At the time of writing just over 40 refugee families have arrived in the UK supported by community groups with another 140 groups at different stages of development but all planning to receive a family during 2019. Groups vary enormously from local retirees impassioned by TV coverage of the crisis to groups of employees and, most commonly, congregations of many different denominations (Christian, Jewish and Muslim). If the CSS is successful the UK plans to expand it radically so that it becomes the main route for refugee support in the UK. Yet there is no knowledge about the scheme and in particular about the motivations and experiences of the volunteers who have responsibility to establish, raise funds and support families. Understanding the motivations of volunteers is essential if the scheme is to be successful. The Home Office has established an organization to support groups: RESET-UK. They need knowledge about volunteer motivations and how to retain volunteers in order to support CSS groups and ensure the success of the scheme.

The PhD will help address gaps in knowledge about the motivations of volunteers. While social sciences have critically engaged with humanitarian and neoliberal projects, the role of volunteers in humanitarian endeavours such as CSS in the Global North is only just beginning to receive attention. Liisa Malkki (2015) calls for more studies of ‘the humanitarian subject characterized by a desire to help’. This research agenda seeks to bring into dialogue literature on neoliberal discourses of volunteering (Hyatt 2001, Rose 1996, Rozakou 2016) with the critical study of humanitarianism (Fassin 2012, Ticktin 2011, Redfield and Bornstein 2011). While volunteers are increasingly called upon to fill gaps left in social service provision they are also attracted to volunteering in humanitarian settings through a desire to alleviate suffering, to feel connected and find a sense of meaning.

The candidate will have a good first degree and ideally a Masters degree in a related field with a disciplinary focus from the social sciences. They will also be able to demonstrate excellent research skills either gained through working in the field or through an MA/MSC programme. They will have some experience working with or researching with refugees or be able to demonstrate high degrees of knowledge about approaches such work might entail. They will possess excellent interpersonal skills and awareness of how to work with vulnerable respondents including understanding ethical considerations associated with such work. They will have a demonstrable interest in working with refugees and with volunteers. Ideally they will have experience of working within civil society organisations and perhaps as a volunteer.

Funding Notes

This project is part of the Global Challenges Scholarship.
The award comprises:

Full payment of tuition fees at UK Research Councils UK/EU fee level (£4,327 in 2019/20), to be paid by the University;
An annual tax-free doctoral stipend at UK Research Councils UK/EU rates (£15,009 for 2019/20), to be paid in monthly instalments to the Global Challenges scholar by the University;
The tenure of the award can be for up to 3.5 years (42 months).

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