Berkeley Law faculty releases research in light of World Refugee Day

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To spread insight on the international refugee crisis, Berkeley Law faculty members imparted valuable research on World Refugee Day. Their research explores misconceptions about refugees, as well as the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on migrants across the world.

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UC Berkeley School of Law faculty released various research findings in light of World Refugee Day on June 20, reflecting on the current state of the refugee crisis internationally.

Khatharya Um, campus associate professor in Asian American and Asian Diaspora studies, noted that the number of refugees is at an “unprecedented high” of more than 82 million people. Um added that refugees are also experiencing longer periods of displacement, with 77% of refugees having been displaced for five or more years.

The majority of the individuals who fall under the distinction have been displaced for 20 years or more, according to Um.

“This has to do with the protracted nature of conflict, but also because of the shrinking humanitarian space engendered by the spread of protectionist policies and the lowering of refugee third country admissions, especially in the West,” Um said in an email.

Western anxieties about migrants flooding across international borders are inaccurate, according to Um. Rather, 86% of refugees are actually hosted by developing countries, Um said in an email.

The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the situation. With closed borders, refugees were forced to face additional challenges and difficulties as they occupied crowded spaces, according to Katerina Linos, campus law professor. The COVID-19 pandemic also restricted movement so refugees could not flee.

Julie Freccero, director and founder of the Health and Human Rights Program at Berkeley Law, worked on a study that examined the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on girls in refugee communities in Jordan.

The study, which was published in May, found that school closures, an increase in housework and a greater financial strain on families incentivized early marriage.

“We really wanted to collect most of the data from the girls themselves and have them involved in designing the solution,” Freccero said.

Freccero’s data was collected from 280 girls who participated in the study through interviews, engaging activities and workshops involving art collages and musical chairs-style discussion groups.

As some of the first empirical research on the subject, Freccero’s findings highlighted that many girls and their families are turning to early marriage to cope with challenges they face during the pandemic, with many participants noting that many of their friends were getting married after the COVID-19 lockdown went into effect, according to Freccero.

“When people do flee, they’ve often lost loved ones. They’ve lost their homes. They’ve lost their livelihoods and they want some form of justice or retribution from that loss,” said Eric Stover, the faculty director of the Human Rights Center at Berkeley Law.

Stover said acquiring information is an ongoing struggle. For safety reasons, the data refugee organizations collect is highly protected.

However, without the necessary information on people who could be indicted for potential crimes, it is difficult to obtain justice, according to Stover.

“Refugees should be of concern to us not only because they are the human legacies of conflict and other human-made calamities in which the West are implicated, but also because issues related to migration cut across 11 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals,” Um said in an email.

Contact Kira Rao-Poolla at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @kiraraopoolla.