Responses to Forced Displacement: A Defining Moment

Forced displacement is a global issue and a defining feature of our time. How we respond to this humanitarian crisis will be a defining feature of global society for years to come. The important role that knowledge production and mobilization must play to inform the path forward should not be understated. Refugees in Canada and Germany: From Research to Policies and Practice is an edited collection recently published by GESIS that brings together multidisciplinary perspectives from leading scholars across Germany and Canada. This volume offers an in-depth look at the responses of Germany and Canada – two countries that have responded to the 21st century ‘age of displacement’ in very different ways. It depicts the creative solutions and often collaborative efforts these host societies have undertaken to support the sudden arrival of newcomers within their nations’ borders.

Zwangsvertreibung ist ein globales Thema und ein prägendes Merkmal unserer Zeit. Wie wir auf diese humanitäre Krise reagieren, wird für die kommenden Jahre ein prägendes Merkmal der globalen Gesellschaft sein. Die wichtige Rolle, die die Wissensproduktion und -mobilisierung spielen müssen, um den Weg aus der Krise zu finden, sollte nicht unterschätzt werden. Refugees in Canada and Germany: From Research to Policies and Practice ist ein vor kurzem von GESIS veröffentlichtes Buch, das multidisziplinäre Perspektiven von führenden Wissenschaftler*innen aus Deutschland und Kanada zusammenführt. Das Buch bietet einen eingehenden Blick auf die Reaktionen Deutschlands und Kanadas – zweier Länder, die auf das “Zeitalter der Vertreibung” des 21. Jahrhunderts auf sehr unterschiedliche Weise reagiert haben. Es zeigt kreative Lösungen und die oft gemeinsamen Anstrengungen, die diese Aufnahmegesellschaften unternommen haben, um die plötzliche Ankunft von Neuankömmlingen innerhalb ihrer nationalen Grenzen zu unterstützen.

DOI: 10.34879/gesisblog.2020.8

Global forced displacement in context

Continuing global instability means that every day thousands of people are forced to flee their homes in search of haven free from violence. According to estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were more than 70 million forcibly displaced people around the world at the end of 2018 – the highest amount in almost 70 years ( More than one-third of these were refugees, two-thirds of which were under the age of 25 (

Some might be surprised to learn that the overwhelming majority of those forcibly displaced are hosted not in the wealthiest nations of the world, but rather in neighbouring countries of war-torn regions with far fewer resources, such as Turkey (3.7m), Jordan (2.9m), Lebanon (1.4m), Pakistan (1.4m) and Uganda (1.1m) (

Many of those that settle in these locales find few opportunities and often face extreme forms of social and economic exclusion. Many others wait in refugee camps, often in deplorable conditions, holding on to the hope of being resettled in Europe or North America, for a chance at a new life and more opportunities.

The summer of 2015 saw a significant shift in the patterns of how migration was unfolding around the world, as record-high numbers of people attempted to reach Europe in order to claim asylum. That year over 1 million people arrived in Europe by sea alone, while many others did not survive the journey ( In 2016, Germany was the world’s largest recipient of new individual asylum applications, with over 700,000 (

With increasingly high numbers of people around the world being forced from their homes, some have referred to this particular moment as the ‘age of displacement’.[1] Such a definition recognizes the historical, political, economic, and increasingly, the environmental factors that produce displacement: foreign interventions, unequal trade relations, and climate change fuel wars, extreme poverty and destroy livelihoods. This is seen in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, three countries that in 2015/6 were the origins of nearly 75% of those seeking asylum in Europe (, and where the United States’ and European foreign policy is deeply implicated in the war and instability in these countries.[2]

As long as these root causes go unaddressed, people will continue to risk their lives to move across international borders in order to improve their life chances. If displacement is a defining characteristic of the current state we find ourselves in, the issue is not so much how we are going to control it, rather “what matters will be how we respond” (

Global responses to forced displacement

Response to the global issue of forced displacement has varied drastically between and within countries. In many contexts, the categories of ‘refugee’, ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘migrant’ have become politicized and taken on negative connotations.[3] Abetted by sensationalized reporting by conservative media outlets, right-wing and populist governments across Europe and North America used the humanitarian crisis of forced displacement as a mechanism to divide, discriminate and de/legitimize mobility and claims to international protection.[4] This has resulted in ‘overreaction and panic, fuelled by misconceptions about who the migrants are [and] why they come” ( The image of national spaces and borders under attack from ‘mass influxes’ of refugees and migrants has spread anti-refugee/migrant sentiment[5] and has been used to justify policies and practices of exclusion, surveillance and mass containment. It has been four years since the ‘summer of migration’, yet images today from the border areas of Greece and Turkey illustrate the harsh and violent realities of an ongoing humanitarian crisis for which militarized borders, restrictive asylum policies, and efforts to detain and deport are failed solutions (

Yet running counter to the fences and walls that have been erected along national borders are examples of alternative ways societies can respond to the humanitarian crisis of forced displacement. Germany and Canada, for example, have gained international notoriety and received accolades from the global community for their efforts and leadership in supporting and protecting refugees. This does not mean the arrival of asylum seekers and refugees in these countries has not triggered negative backlashes. But looking closely at their responses exemplifies collaborative efforts to support and welcome refugees into their respective societies. 

From research to practice: The importance of knowledge production to inform the path forward

The issue of forced migration and the integration of refugees is a central challenge to host societies. Social science research must play an essential role in finding long-term solutions to the unique challenges of supporting migrants and refugees during and after forced displacement.

Such knowledge production must be mobilized in a timely and accessible manner to improve the situations for refugees and migrants. This path forward will require innovation and collaboration between different sectors of society to find solutions that remove the obstacles for refugees to integrate and participate in daily life. This evidence-based approach runs counter to the uninformed, reactionary policy solutions seen around the world that are designed to criminalize, contain and exclude migrants and refugees, and will be instrumental to the successful integration of future cohorts.

Refugees in Canada and Germany: From Research to Policies and Practice is an edited collection recently published by GESIS and represents a cross-national, collaborative effort between academics, policymakers, settlement organizations, and activists. Within its pages we learn about how cities, activist organizations, media and institutions in Germany and Canada responded to the sudden arrival of newcomers within their nations’borders and the steps they are taking to improve the chances for migrants to resettle successfully. It brings together multidisciplinary perspectives from sociology, psychology, political science, education and health studies, and highlights important research insights from leading scholars in the field.
The chapters in this volume hold the promise of informing a path forward to address the global crisis of forced displacement that shows no signs of waning and can provide inspiration for what research can contribute to successfully addressing this pressing challenge of our time.

Korntheuer, A., Pritchard, P., Maehler, D. B., & Wilkinson, L. (Eds.). (2020). Refugees in Canada and Germany: From Research to Policies and Practice (GESIS-Schriftenreihe, 25). Cologne: GESIS. DOI: 10.21241/ssoar.66728. [Full text free for download.]

[1] McGrath, S. & Young, J. E. (2019). Mobilizing global knowledge: Refugee research in theage of displacement. University of Calgary Press.

[2] Anderson, B. (2017). Towards a new politics of migration? Ethnic and Racial Studies, 40(9):1527-37.

[3] Crawley, H. & Skleparis, D. (2018). Refugees, migrants, neither, both: Categorical fetishism and the politics of bounding in Europe’s “migration crisis”. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 44(1), 48-64.

[4] Ibid.

[5]  Krzyżanowski, M., Triandafyllidou, A. & Wodak, R. (2018). The mediatization and the politicization of the “Refugee Crisis” in Europe. Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, 16 (1-2), 1-14.

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