Our Research Priorities

The Global Migration Lab focuses on five of the most pressing and complex challenges in global migration. These demand policy-relevant research on novel governance structures, durable solutions, and responsibility sharing. State interests, civil society, and rights-based approaches must be considered together in addressing the world’s migration challenges.

The Global Refugee Crisis & New Durable Solutions

The population of displaced people is at a historical high. International refugee resettlement and voluntary repatriation are both at ten-year lows, while the average duration of displacement is seventeen years. For protracted situations, the average is twenty-six years, meaning several intergenerational refugee populations.

States with the smallest capacity shoulder the most significant burden. Funding shortfalls mean the UN’s humanitarian system has fallen behind on basic subsistence and humanitarian aid.

The World Bank, UN, financial institutions, and private corporations have signalled interest in partnerships for host state development and investing in refugee livelihoods. Innovative educational, training and entrepreneurial opportunities might help ensure that displacement does not amount to lost generations. The UN’s Global Migration and Refugee Compacts signal a potential turning point in global migration governance. At the same time, these novel solutions might amount to new modes of containing refugees in regions of origin.


Can changes to the UN system and new treaties incentivize comprehensive solutions for the world’s displaced?

Can market-oriented, development, and livelihoods-based solutions create positive gains for displaced populations and hosting countries alike?

What balance of international resettlement and financial support can improve effective and equitable global responsibility sharing?

What are the security consequences of protracted refugee situations?

Far-Right Populism and Xenophobia in Liberal States

Domestic politics often stands at odds with the need for more effective international responsibility sharing and indeed for the future of pluralistic societies.

Many liberal, democratic states are experiencing an upsurge in xenophobic populism and gains for far-right parties. Populist sentiment across the political spectrum is increasingly tied to the perception that states have lost control of borders and access to political community. Politicians in democratic states must be seen as addressing these concerns. Traditional centrist parties are thus pushed to adopt stricter policies and more hard-line rhetoric around migration.

A wide body of research shows that anti-foreigner sentiment does not correspond to the actual number of foreign-born residents. In addition, populism also turns on a mistrust of experts, facts, and global institutions, meaning a truncated range of policy choices.


How does anti-migrant political sentiment at the domestic level affect international migration management?

How can liberal-democratic governments continue to reconcile pro- and anti-immigration demands in light of recent gains on the part of populist parties and movements?

Do populist political victories push the political centre to adopt stricter immigration and asylum policies?

Challenges to Integration in Global North States

All immigrants face challenges to integration, and receiving societies often have fundamentally different visions of their role in the process. Multiculturalism is not the global norm.

Successful integration policies can lead to better overall economic performance and social cohesion. Weak integration outcomes can have far-ranging sociopolitical consequences for newcomers and receiving societies alike.

Uncontrolled or unwanted immigration can lead to a sharp backlash against all forms of migration. Likewise, poor integration leads to inequality for immigrants and their children and a belief among members of the receiving society that public policy cannot prevent potentially dangerous forms of social segregation.


What lessons can Canada offer to other Global North receiving states on the integration of immigrants and refugees?

How do labour market policies affect the integration of differently-skilled immigrant categories and what are the overall economic impacts of broad immigration policies?

Given that cities are the locus of immigration, what is the role of multi-level governance in integration policy and migration management?

South-South Migration and Environmental Sustainability

While much attention is paid to global North receiving states, the majority of international migration now moves within the Global South.

The global South is the locus of two defining trends of the 21st century: urbanization and climate change. Rural to urban migration and demographic trends mean that by 2050 a significant proportion of global population growth will take place in southern cities.

Much urban growth is unplanned and informal. Pollution in big cities is rampant. Densely-populated cities face the most significant exposure to climate change processes and events like rising sea levels, desertification, high temperatures, and extreme weather. Poor governance, weak economies, and oppressed civil societies mean significant vulnerability. These trends will have significant knock-on effects that demand forward-thinking solutions.


How can Global North states help with effective climate change adaptation in Global South states?

Can non-democracies and weak states effectively engage with civil society toward sustainability?

Can global governance and existing frameworks for migration management effectively address the potential for climate-induced migration?

The Search for Effective Migration Management

The lack of durable solutions for refugees, environmental stress, and poor life chances in sending and transit states act as drivers for irregular migration. People with justifiable claims to international protection increasingly rely on smugglers to access asylum. Strict immigration regimes in Global North states help foster market incentives for irregular migration. The resulting complex mixed flows of people present hard challenges to established legal categories and bureaucratic structures.

The conflation of smuggling and trafficking arguably leads to an overall criminalization and securitization of migration. Liberal states are increasingly willing to militarize borders and make deals with weak, corrupt, and authoritarian states to stop irregular migration. These policies often amount to stop-gap measures rather than long-term solutions.


What does effective migration management mean in the era of securitized migration policies?

Can more open and holistic migration opportunities reduce the market incentives for irregular migration?

How do rights-based international obligations comport with an era of border pushbacks, migrant detention, and the proliferation of deals with authoritarian governments?

What do the rates of unaccompanied minors and women tell us about the drivers of irregular migration?