Responding to the Global Refugee Crisis: Human Rights Have No Borders

TUESDAY, JUNE 14, 2016, 7:00PM – 8:30PM


On June 14th, 2016, the Balsillie School, the University of Waterloo History Department and the International Migration Research Centre welcomed Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, Alex Neve.

The world faces the biggest refugee crisis we have seen in close to 70 years.  Not since the Second World War have so many people been forced from their homes due to war and human rights violations.  Seven decades ago the response was grounded in recognition of the rights and needs of refugees and led to the adoption of the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention.  This time, the response has been dominated by the desperate journeys refugees have been forced to take due to closed borders, restrictive policies and racist political responses.  Most attention has focused on the staggering Syrian refugee crisis and the thousands of refugees’ lives lost crossing the Mediterranean to safety in Europe.  But there are similar stories to be told from Central Americans crossing through Mexico, Rohingya from Myanmar taking to rickety boats in Southeast Asia’s seas, and Eritreans held hostage by criminal gangs in the Sinai Peninsula.

While there have been encouraging moves towards a renewed commitment to refugee protection in Canada in recent months, most governments around the world are increasingly fixated on how to keep refugees out. Neve’s talk explored just how broken the global refugee system has become and what needs to be done to turn this mounting human rights crisis around.



2016-03-01 Now available as an e-book: “Diasporas, Development and Governance“, Abel Chikanda, Jonathan Crush, and Margaret Walton-Roberts


2016-03-08 Interview with IMRC Associate Director, Dr. Margaret Walton-Roberts at the 2015 Canadian Science Policy Conference   Watch Here:

Governance and Public Policy

The 21st century has seen international migration become one of the most salient issues on public policy and global governance agendas. Most recent estimates suggest there are more than 244 million international migrants (UNFPA 2015). Unlike the movement of capital, goods, and services, international migration is not governed by a single agency within the international system that oversees and addresses all forms of international migration. Rather, there is a complex network of intergovernmental organizations within and outside of the UN that focus on specific aspects of migration. Most countries play a role in international migration and act either as source, transit, or destination countries. The ways governments respond can have consequences for these countries and for migrants crossing borders. Migrants relocate for education, work, family, safety, and to learn about new cultures and societies. Many migrants support their families and communities through remittances and contribute to the development of both source and destination countries.  Migration and movements take place through regular and irregular channels, such as smuggling or trafficking of persons. Different approaches to governance, varying from UN systems, to regional frameworks and bilateral agreements, extend across internal and external borders.  As migration trends continue to change there is an increased need for international cooperation, policies and governance mechanisms to manage the movement of people, ensuring human rights are respected and contributions and impacts are recognized and considered.



Migration and Development Nexus

Analysts and policy makers have imperfectly understood the links between migration and its impacts on, and potential for, development. Research is now increasingly exploring this relationship, recognizing migrant contributions in countries of origin, transit and destination. There is a growing understanding of transnational practices linking migrants to both receiving and sending societies. This has led to a broader understanding of the potential for migration to positively impact social and economic development both at home and abroad. Migrants often support their families and communities in countries of origin through remittances. Money, goods, and social capital sent home often contribute to the economic and social development of communities and countries. Migrants also play an integral part of the development of host countries by supplementing gaps in labour markets, transfers of skills and contributions to cultural enrichment. Increasingly, governments in the Global South are turning to their own extra-national diasporic populations in order to boost economic development, build global trade and investment networks, while increasing their political leverage overseas; but this is not without consequences.  Our research assesses the various angles and influences of migration on development. We focus on enhancing an international understanding of the potential of migrants at all stages of their journeys, including the implications of remittances, diasporas and development, social and economic costs and benefits and the power dynamics and interests at play.



Environment and Migration

In 2015, the earth reached the highest temperature ever recorded (NCDC, 2015).  The excessive rate of climate change, which far exceeds most scientific forecasts, has had important and often dire consequences for individuals and communities who struggle to respond to natural disasters, depleted natural resources, and food security challenges. Increasingly, individuals have opted to relocate as a survival strategy for adapting to changing environments. It is estimated that since 2009, one person every second has been displaced by a natural disaster. This has led to an average of 22.5 million people becoming displaced by climate or weather related events since 2008 (IDMC 2015). The droughts in Somalia in 2011, floods in Pakistan between 2010 and 2012, and the earthquake in Nepal in 2015, are only some examples of the natural disasters and slow onsets of climate related crisis that devastate a large number of people; leaving them without shelter, clean water, and basic supplies. The international community is increasingly wary of the potential for climate to cause large scale population displacements and migration in coming decades. As the issue of climate change continues to develop, innovate and in-depth research is required to maintain an international focus on the scientific, political, and policy dimensions of environmentally-related migration and its future challenges.


Highlighted Projects



Skill Training and Migration

Global competition for skilled migration has seen a range of policy options employed to capture full and partial human capital endowments. Immigration policy in many OECD nations now places a premium on migrants with specific skills that are seen as vital to national development, innovation and competitiveness. Nations are in competition for this talent, often reverting to what has been called a ‘citizenship for talent exchange’. One policy arena emerging in response to this need is in the intersection of migration and education. In Canada, international students have become an increasingly important dimension of the country’s educational and immigration policies.  This has led to the development of pathways from educational to working visa status. The area of skilled and high skilled migration examines issues such as the pathways and transitions from study to work visas, international student experiences, brain drain/circulation, knowledge flows, movement of healthcare workers, and more.


Highly Skilled Migration

Inaugural Dr. Kerry Preibisch Global Social Justice and Migration Lecture

March 31st 2016, 4:30-5:30pm
Register now:

This lecture is the first of the annual Dr. Kerry Preibisch Global Social Justice and Migration Lecture Series organized by the International Migration Research Centre. Dr. Kerry Preibisch was a prolific scholar in the area of social justice and migration, who died of cancer in January, 2016, at the height of her career. The intention of this annual memorial lecture will be to add to the myriad ways that scholars and students can keep her research and vision of promoting migrants’ human rights alive into the future. Invited speakers must bring a global social justice perspective to their lecture pertaining to migration, and are encouraged to engage directly with Kerry’s work.

Dr. Jenna Hennebry will introduce this new lecture series with the short talk, Mapping Migrant Worker Health into the Global Health and Migration Nexus.

This presentation positions migrant workers within the intersection of global health, public health and occupational health debates, and points to the need to mainstream migrant worker health into the centre of global health and migration policy.

Dr. Hennebry’s talk will be followed by a lecture by Dr. Janet McLaughlin Harvesting Justice: Towards Securing the Health and Human Rights of Migrant Agricultural Workers in Canada.

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, which employs thousands of migrant farm workers from Mexico and the Caribbean on seasonal contracts throughout Canada. Throughout most of the program’s history, little attention has been paid to the human rights and health concerns of workers, who have remained largely invisible to Canadian society. Welcome to work, but not to immigrate, these workers have quietly become a permanently temporary labour force, one that provides vital, if unrecognized, support to local food systems and agricultural economies. Employed in some of the most difficult and dangerous jobs in Canada, migrant workers are regularly exposed to risks and rights violations, yet they face multiple barriers, both structural and practical, to accessing protections and benefits. Based on a decade of ethnographic and survey-based research with workers and their families in Mexico, Jamaica and Canada, this presentation documents migrants’ health journeys across borders; explores the successes and limitations of recent initiatives aimed at supporting workers; and outlines recommendations for fundamental changes to protect their health and rights moving forward.

Dr. Kerry Preibisch Lecture Poster

Citizenship and Pluralism

Alongside globalization, improved mobility, and increased movements of populations, societies have become more diverse. Countries with immigration policies welcoming significant numbers of new immigrants and refugees each year have experienced increased diversity within their communities. This has prompted the need to explore the link between pluralism and economic prosperity as well as the link between transnational identity and nations’ ability to adapt to and benefit from globalization. Integration and citizenship policies are also influenced by the changes in globalization and migration. Some policies have embraced the arrival of potential citizens while others have become barriers to new comers’ integration. Research conducted by the center explores the impacts of globalization upon communities, Canadians’ contributions to and benefits from global connections, citizenship and integration policies, the economic and social impacts of pluralism, and the role of globally connected citizens.


Highlighted Projects

Pluralism Project



In countries such as Canada, migrant workers are employed on temporary contracts and have no pathway to permanent residency. Many are employed in relatively high risk industries in which health and safety problems are common, and may go unreported. They normally work 6-7 days a week, 8-12 hours a day, these hours can increase substantially during the high season. They often lack sufficient breaks, health and safety training, and personal protective equipment. Workers face numerous barriers in accessing healthcare and insurance, such as language and cultural barriers, social and physical isolation, and fear of loss of employment or forced return to their country of origin. The center’s research explores barriers to healthcare and service providers, and facilitates collaborative identification of strategies to increase workers’ access to healthcare services and workers compensation.


Highlighted Projects

Migrant Worker Health