Global Migration Challenges Speaker Series

The Global Migration Challenges series offers accessible, policy-focused conversations with leading experts, civil society, and practitioners. The series is presented with support from Immigration, Refugees, & Citizenship Canada, and the Canada Research Chair in Global Migration. Reports for past events can be found below.

Upcoming events

Further events to follow


Past events

February 6, 2019
2:00 pm – 3:30 pm


Kelsey P. Norman: “Strategic Indifference: Understanding Responses to Migrant and Refugee Settlement in Mediterranean Host Countries”
Hiba Sha’ath: “At Cross Purposes: A Field-Based Perspective on IOM’s Framing(s) of Migration in Libya”

Comments by Craig Damian Smith


The Central Mediterranean has been the site of mass irregular migration for at least the past decade. Overloaded boats full of desperate people have come to dominate media and popular imagery. Growing attention to the often-dire conditions of migrants in Sahel and North African transit states provides an important check on European claims that “breaking” smuggling rings and criminalizing humanitarian NGOs can co-exist with the promise of development aid and protecting the rights of migrants. Indeed, it is now clear that Europe’s externalized migration controls have dire consequences for migrants, help support autocratic governments, and undermine international protection norms.

However, the focus on Europe’s policy challenges and its ability to “externalize” controls ignores the interests, choices, and domestic politics in African transit and destination states. Likewise, International Organizations are characterized as passive vehicles of European policies, obscuring their significant interests and internal politics. This panel will unpack the policies and interests of Mediterranean transit and receiving states, explore how International Organizations mediate between their own and diverse state interests, and ask how these dynamics affect irregular migration in the region.

Kelsey Norman is a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Political Science and the Institute for European Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada and an instructor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. She has conducted several years of field research throughout North Africa.

Hiba Sha’ath is a second year PhD student in Human Geography at York University. Prior to joining York, she worked on data analysis, research coordination and reporting with IOM Libya’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) program from 2016 to 2017, and with IOM’s regional office for West and Central Africa in spring and summer of 2018.

February 13, 2019
2:30 pm – 4:00 pm


Alex Aleinikoff in conversation with Audrey Macklin and Randall Hansen


The international refugee regime is broken. Too many people remain refugees for too long, as states in the Global North have cut resettlement programs and adopted policies to deter asylum-seekers while conflicts causing flight go unresolved. To repair and reform the current system, The Arc of Protection (co-authored by T. Alexander Aleinikoff and Leah Zamore) suggests a new focus on refugee rights, autonomy, and mobility and attention to the role that development actors can play in responding to refugee situations. Serious changes are needed at the level of structures and institutions, especially when it comes to global responsibility-sharing. These changes are unlikely to be made by states, who have watched over the decline of the refugee protection system. Reform will require new actors and ultimately political action.

Alex Aleinikoff is University Professor, and has served as Director of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility at the New School since January 2017. He received a J.D. from the Yale Law School and a B.A. from Swarthmore College.

Alex has written widely in the areas of immigration and refugee law and policy, transnational law, citizenship, race, and constitutional law. In addition to The Arc of Protection, he is the author of Semblances of Sovereignty: The Constitution, the State, and American Citizenship, published by Harvard University Press in 2002. Alex is also a co-author of leading legal casebooks on immigration law and forced migration and host of the podcast, “Tempest Tossed” (on US immigration policy).

February 28, 2019
3:00 pm – 4:30 pm


Anne Staver: “Of two minds: reasserting national control while negotiating global migration governance”
James Milner: “Collective action in a time of populism: Everyday politics and the implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees”
Discussant: Jennifer Hyndman, Director of the Centre for Refugees Studies, York University
Moderator: Randall Hansen


Signed in December 2018, the Global Refugee and Global Migration Compacts are an admission that the challenges of migration are best approached through cooperation and collective action.

The Compact on Refugees recognizes the unequal burden placed on Global South states, which host refugees, and rich Global North states, which pay to keep them in regions of origin. Recognizing that most refugees will not return home or be resettled, the Compact proposes new solidarity, development, and finance mechanisms to foster the inclusion and development of displaced people and host populations alike. While promising, displacement crises continue to proliferate, host states remain under-funded, and programming faces major delivery challenges.

In terms of the Migration Compact, scholars have long argued that state interests are largely incompatible with attempts at global migration governance. Yet, in 2016 the International Organization for Migration became a UN agency, and the vast majority of states supported the Compact with a goal of facilitating safe, orderly, and legal migration. At the same time, right-wing parties in liberal democracies rallied against the Compact, arguing it would erode state sovereignty, and several prominent states “pulled out”.

This panel will unpack the potential for global migration governance, responsibility-sharing, and addressing collective action problems in the face of burden-shifting, populism, and a growing desire to assert control.

James Milner is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Carleton University. He is also currently Project Director of LERRN: The Local Engagement Refugee Research Network, a 7-year, SSHRC-funded partnership between researchers and civil society actors primarily in Canada, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon and Tanzania. He has been a researcher, practitioner and policy advisor on issues relating to the global refugee regime, global refugee policy and the politics of asylum in the global South. In recent years, he has undertaken field research in Burundi, Guinea, Kenya, India, Tanzania and Thailand, and has presented research findings to stakeholders in New York, Geneva, London, Ottawa, Bangkok, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and elsewhere. He has worked as a Consultant for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in India, Cameroon, Guinea and its Geneva Headquarters. He is author of Refugees, the State and the Politics of Asylum in Africa (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), co-author (with Alexander Betts and Gil Loescher) of UNHCR: The Politics and Practice of Refugee Protection (Routledge, 2012), and co-editor of Protracted Refugee Situations: Political, Human Rights and Security Implications (UN University Press, 2008).

Anne Balke Staver is a senior researcher at the Oslo Metropolitan University, focusing on migration and integration policies. She holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Toronto and an MSc in Forced Migration from the University of Oxford. She is formerly a research fellow at the Institute for Social Research (Oslo), and has extensive experience from migration policymaking and implementation in the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration, Norwegian Police Immigration Service and the Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Consultations on Migration, Asylum and Refugees (igc).

March 6, 2019
12:30 pm – 2:30 pm


Shachi Kurl: “Migration’s Impact on Secularism in Canada”
Geoffrey Cameron: “Religion and the Course of Private Refugee Sponsorship in Canada”
Sadia Rafiquddan: “Words Matter: Reframing the Narratives of Refugees, Indigenous Peoples, and Muslims in Canada”
Discussant: Michael Donnelly


Immigration to Canada has progressively changed the religious composition of the country, and stimulated a number of heated policy debates around questions of citizenship and belonging. Religious groups have also long been some of the most vocal advocates for family migration and refugee resettlement. At the same time, narratives of displacement, welcome, and belonging have largely ignored the experience and opinions of Indigenous populations.

This discussion will examine how religion and shaped migration and vice versa: How have faith groups influenced immigration patterns and policy? How is immigration changing religion in a secular Canadian society? And what do Indigenous experiences of displacement tell us about popular narratives of welcome?

Shachi Kurl is Executive Director of the Angus Reid Institute. She is a frequent guest on CBC’s “At Issue,” Canada’s most-watched political panel, and her analysis has been published in The Globe and Mail, the National Post, and other influential forums.

Geoffrey Cameron (MPhil, PhD) is Director of Public Affairs for the Baha’i Community of Canada, a Research Associate with the Global Migration Lab, and he teaches at McMaster University. He is co-editing a forthcoming volume, “Private Refugee Sponsorship: Concepts, Cases, and Consequences”.

Born in Sargodha, Pakistan, Sadia Rafiquddin draws inspiration from her parents’ move to Canada as refugees in 1990. She is a freelance writer, broadcaster and photographer focusing on human rights stories for CBC, Ferst Digital Inc., Philanthropic Foundations Canada, Hacking Health and Apathy is Boring among others. Her radio documentary Engaged at 14:“I was worried about science class. And now I am getting married?” for CBC’s The Doc Project, was awarded two silver prizes at the New York Festival’s World’s Best Radio Programs in 2018.

March 12, 2019
5:00 pm – 7:00 pm



States in the North of Central America (NCA)– El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala – are characterized by endemic poverty, corruption, gang violence, criminality, sexual-identity and gender-based violence, and weak or repressive states. The situation has given rise to a major displacement crisis.

The region saw a tenfold increase in refugees and asylum-seekers from 2011 to 2016. Over 350,000 people claimed asylum globally from 2011 and 2017, with 130,500 in 2017 alone. Most made claims in Mexico and the US, but an increasing number sought refuge in Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama. In the first two months of 2019 alone, almost 8000 refugee claims were made in Mexico; the majority from Honduras and El Salvador. Women, families, and unaccompanied minors are over-represented in displaced populations.

Internal displacement is likewise significant. The region has the world’s most urbanized displaced population, with roughly 95% living in urban areas, making traditional, camp-based humanitarian assistance challenging.

Regional displacement has international implications. Between 400,000 and 500,000 NCA nationals cross irregularly into Mexico annually, most attempting to reach the US. Mexico has become a country of destination, and the new Mexican government has quickly put in place reception measures and enhanced access to the labour market for refugees.

To manage large displacements, states need to apply a comprehensive regional approach. UNHCR is supporting a state-led process known as the MIRPS – the Comprehensive Regional Protection and Solutions Framework – which seeks to promote mechanisms of responsibility-sharing for the prevention, protection and solutions of displaced populations.

This timely panel will offer an in-depth analysis of the current situation, examine the policies of the new government in Mexico, and ask what Canada can do to assist host states and displaced people.

April 2, 2019
1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Boardroom, 315 Bloor Street West 



While the concept of sanctuary cities ancient, it has taken on new importance along with the politicization and securitization of migration.

In the US, local sanctuary policies and social movements can play an important role in defending undocumented people. This is particularly important given schisms between city, state, and federal policy, and the proportion of undocumented people with partners, spouses, and children with US citizenship. Sanctuary policies can also play an important role in ensuring that undocumented people can access healthcare and social services, and feel safe to report crimes, unfair labour practices, and domestic abuse.

At the same time, sanctuary policies can serve as a point of backlash from law enforcement agencies, immigration authorities, and often first and second-generation immigrant communities. This panel will unpack the role of sanctuary movements in the US context, and compare them with policies in Canada, where the role of immigration enforcement and undocumented populations is far less politicized from either end of the spectrum.

The panel brings together practitioner and academic perspectives, in conversation with policymakers from the City of Toronto.

Alexandra Délano Alonso: “The Limits and Possibilities of Sanctuary: Modes of Resistance and Solidarity in the Trump Era”

Idil Atak: “Toronto’s Sanctuary City Policy: Rationale and Barriers”

Ritika Goel: “No Sanctuary Without Health: Uninsured in Canada”

In conversation with Chris Brillinger, Executive Director, Social Development, Finance and Administration at City of Toronto

April 18, 2019
12:00 noon – 2:00 pm
Boardroom, 315 Bloor Street West 



Irregular migration represents a tiny fraction of overall global mobility. Most irregular migrants overstay visas or lose legal status rather than attempt to cross borders on foot or arrive at shores by boat. Among these, a significant proportion have legitimate claims to asylum.

Nonetheless, irregular migration over borders plays a disproportionate role in political discourse, and politicians in liberal states have embarked on progressively more restrictive policies to close borders, detain migrants, and extend controls to transit and host states. These policies can have far-ranging effects, including more lethal migration routes, larger markets for smugglers and traffickers, undermining liberal international norms, and fostering hysterical domestic responses to irregular migration.

The final event in our Global Migration Challenges series will look at the effects of EU attempts to externalize migration controls in West Africa, unpack the Trump administration’s policies of deterrence, detention, and family separation, and present evidence about how changes in US policy affect irregular migration to Canada.

Philippe M. Frowd: “Playing the numbers game in Europe’s African borderlands”

Luis Campos: “Broken Borders and Broken Promises: An Update on U.S. Asylum Law and Policy and the Legal Resistance at the American Southern Border”

Craig Damian Smith: “America First, Canada Last? The Effects of US Policy Change on Emerging Irregular Migration Systems to Canada”

In conversation with Prof. Alison Mountz, Director, International Migration Research Centre and Canada Research Chair in Global Migration Balsillie School of International Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University

Luis Campos is Immigration Counsel to Haynes and Boone LLP in Dallas, Texas and a former Assistant Professor of Law at the University of New Brunswick. Dr. Campos has led Haynes and Boone’s pro bono program of representing Central American asylum seekers affected by the government’s Zero Tolerance Policy. In this role, he coordinates the firm’s deportation defense teams; frequently visits immigration detention facilities throughout the Southwest; and appears in related federal court proceedings. Dr. Campos received his legal education in the U.S. and Canada (J.D., SMU; M.A., U Texas; LL.M. and S.J.D., U Toronto).

Philippe M. Frowd is Assistant Professor in the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa, Canada. His research focuses on the politics of border security and migration management, with a particular focus on transnational security relationships in the Sahel. His bookSecurity at the Borders (Cambridge, 2018)draws on research in Mauritania and Senegal to examine the new practices and technologies that shape borderwork in the region. Philippe’s work has appeared in diverse venues including Security DialogueInternational Political Sociology, and the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.

Craig Damian Smith is the Associate Director of the Global Migration Lab. His research focuses on migration, displacement, European foreign policy, and refugee integration. His current SSHRC-funded research looks at the emergence of irregular migration systems to Canada and their effects on Canada’s domestic politics and international migration relations. He consults on refugee integration policies in EU Member states, and has made several appearances before the Canadian House of Commons Citizenship and Immigration Committee. In addition to his scholarly work, he has provided media commentary on migration and refugee issues to outlets including the Globe and Mail, National Post, BBC, CBC, and NBC.

Alison Mountz is a professor and Canada Research Chair in Global Migration at the Balsillie School of International Affairs at Laurier University. Her work explores how people cross borders and access migration and asylum policies. She researches the tension between the decisions, desires, and displacements that drive migration and the policies and practices designed to manage migration. She analyzes geographies of political asylum and detention, including recent research on islands and US war resister migration to Canada, asking how people seek, find, and forge safe haven. Her monograph, Seeking Asylum: Human Smuggling and Bureaucracy at the Border (Minnesota), was awarded the Meridian Book Prize from the Association of American Geographers. She recently published Boats, Borders, and Bases: Race, the Cold War, and the Rise of Migration Detention in the United States (California, with Jenna Loyd). Mountz directs Laurier’s International Migration Research Centre and edits the journal Politics & Space. She was the 2015-2016 Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies at Harvard University and is a member of the College of the Royal Society of Canada.