MSc in Refugee & Forced Migration Studies

This nine-month master’s degree places forced migration in an academic framework, preparing you for doctoral study or for work relevant to human rights, refugees and migration. It offers an intellectually demanding, interdisciplinary route to understanding forced migration in contexts of conflict, repression, natural disasters, environmental change and development policy-making.

The course aims to offer you an understanding of the complex and varied nature of forced migration and refugee populations, of their centrality to global, regional and national processes of political, social and economic change, and of the needs and aspirations of forcibly displaced people themselves. The course will also enable students to acquire a broad understanding of academic research related to forced migration and refugees, to develop their critical thinking abilities and to provide them with a range of sound evaluative tools.

Applicants to this degree who are interested in progressing onto migration-related doctoral study are eligible to apply for an ESRC 1+3 Studentship which could provide them with four years of full funding. These studentships, previously only available for UK and EU students, are now also available to non-EU students. See the Fees and Funding page for more information.

You will gain the ability to plan, organise and carry out research into aspects of forced migration and refugee studies. You will also gain the skills necessary to convey theoretical knowledge of forced migration to a variety of different audiences.

The degree and its courses are taught using a range of different teaching methods, including lectures, small-group seminars, workshops and supervisions. Students’ active participation is encouraged throughout to enable students to learn from each other.

The Course Director for 2020/21 is Dr Catherine Briddick.


In the first and second terms you will follow core courses which introduce the subject of forced migration from a range of perspectives, including anthropological, political and legal. There is also a two-term course dedicated to research methods relevant to the study of forced migration.

In the second term, you will choose two options courses from a list which changes from year to year.

In the third term, you will write a 10,000- to 15,000-word thesis.

Although you may attend other options courses, you will only be examined on the core courses, your two chosen option courses and the thesis.

Core Courses

The following courses will run in 2020-21:

The Anthropology of Forced Migration

Professor Tom Scott-Smith

This course explores the lived experiences of refugees and forced migrants, covering the anthropological literature on displacement, encampment, resettlement and asylum. It looks at how refugee identity is formed, at notions of home and belonging, and it examines how forced migrants interact with aid agencies, governments and the UNHCR.

It is often said that displacement is a process, and this course primarily looks at the human experience of this process, dividing it into stages. Not all forced migrants will experience all of these stages, however, and at certain points in the course we will shift our attention from the lived experience of forced migrants to study in detail the institutions and systems they encounter. Moreover, the aim of this course is not purely to examine the anthropology of refugees, but to discuss the state of contemporary anthropology more generally. It includes the anthropology of suffering, states, humanitarianism, camps, and international organizations. It aims to give a broad overview of contemporary anthropological concerns, an introduction to some particularly impressive ethnographies, and a chance to study in detail how anthropological thinking can contribute to the study of forced migration.

Each week of this Michaelmas term course will be taught through a close reading of a core text: an ethnographic monograph that has been chosen for its originality and scholarly importance. Seminars each week will include the background and context to the text, an overview of related theory and related literature, and then a detailed discussion of the central reading in relation to a few anthropological debates.

International Human Rights and Refugee Law I

Dr Catherine Briddick

This course covers the core issues in international refugee law and international human rights law that define the scope of international protection. It focuses on the definition of a refugee under the 1951 Refugee Convention and regional instruments, as well as on the role of human rights law in offering protection to refugees and other ‘forced migrants’. The course aims to provide students with a critical understanding of the content, workings and shortcomings of international legal responses to refugees, so that by the end of the course, you will have an understanding of both the potential, and the limits, of international refugee law. In addition to receiving a comprehensive grounding in the law on international protection, by actively engaging with the readings, lectures and class activities, students will develop their abilities to engage in legal analysis, synthesis and argumentation. The course will provide a foundation for the advanced law option in Hilary Term.

The Politics of Forced Migration

Professors Matthew Gibney and Alex Betts

Forced migration is inherently political. Its causes, consequences, and responses to it cannot be understood without looking at the role of power, interests, and ideas. The movement of people across communities, especially when forced, necessarily leads to competing claims. In order to make sense of how these claims are reconciled, this course draws primarily upon the tools of both Comparative Politics and International Relations, in order to examine how domestic and international processes shape the behaviour and interactions of states and other actors in relation to forced migration. Issues discussed include: the refugee as a creation of modern nation state system; why different types of refugees emerge;  why states provide asylum; the factors shaping public attitudes to refugees; questions of resistance and protection outside the state;  the importance of refugees as key political actors. To tackle these issues and others the course draws upon examples from a range of different countries.

Movement and Morality

Professor Matthew Gibney

Human movement across borders raises complex and unavoidable moral questions. States, humanitarian organisations, and individuals often justify their various responses to immigration and refugee movements on moral grounds. It is often claimed, for example, that states have a moral obligation to admit refugees or that controlling immigration is a rightful prerogative of any national community.

This course aims to explore a range of contemporary moral issues raised by border control. Drawing on a number of case studies, the course will consider questions such as whether people should have the right to move freely between states; whether there should be a market in asylum for refugees; what rights illegal migrants should have; and, on what basis states should distribute citizenship.

The answers to these questions (and others that will be considered) are highly contested in practice and in academic literature. The course will map the contours of these lively and important debates and identify the positions that are found to be the strongest.

Research Methods I and II

Dr Anne Irfan

This course in research methods is presented over two terms and has been designed in conjunction with the ESRC guidelines on the provisions of research training for postgraduate research students in the social sciences. In Michaelmas Term the programme will focus on data collection and research design, with eight lectures followed by eight interactive seminars. The course will cover everything from conceptual issues such as epistemology and the use of theoretical frameworks, to more practical concerns, such as literature reviews, research questions, and concerns of bias, representativeness, and sampling.

Hilary Term will cover methods of data analysis, including both qualitative and quantitative techniques. It will include detailed training on how to read, analyse, and use statistics, as well as how to use tools of qualitative analysis. Students will prepare for a final assessed exercise, which examines their ability to plan a research project, and analyse research findings.


Below is a list of indicative options that change from year to year. In addition, students will be able to choose from a pool of option courses from the MSc in Migration Studies.

International Human Rights and Refugee Law II – Current Issues in International Protection

Dr Catherine Briddick

The course commences with a consideration of Palestinian refugees in international refugee law, before examining legal questions relating to exclusion from refugee status, cessation of refugee status, repatriation and resettlement. Having contemplated the ‘rights’ of refugees at sea and the legality, under international refugee and human rights law, of efforts to externalize refugee protection, we proceed to explore States’ detention of refugees and their encampment. We then consider two issues that arise in the context of refugee protection but which are also governed by their own, distinct, legal regimes: trafficking and statelessness.

This course is the advanced law option, it builds, therefore, on the foundation course ‘International Human Rights and Refugee Law I’, which provided an introduction to and overview of the international protection regime. By actively engaging with the readings, seminars and seminar activities, students will further develop their legal skills and will also gain a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of the interrelationship(s) between international refugee law and human rights law in the area of forced migration.

Postcolonial Borders and Forced Migration

Dr Anne Irfan

Understandings of forced migration are inherently grounded in the concept of borders. In legal terms, a forced migrant must cross an international border in order to be recognised as a refugee. Yet most modern-day borders are themselves the product of colonialism. Accordingly, this course uses a postcolonial framework to examine the relationship between borders and forced migration, unpacking what colonial legacies mean for displacement and refugeedom in the modern age. To do so, the course examines not only state borders but also the boundaries around transnational entities such as the EU, as well as the colonial legacies inherent in the global refugee regime. Students are encouraged to familiarise themselves with these topics by reading not only academic scholarships but also forced migrants’ own accounts and testimonies, alongside relevant podcasts and documentaries.

The course opens by historicizing forced migration and borders within the context of postcolonialism. It examines how decolonisation and the construction of ‘modern’ borders have created new dynamics in displacement and citizenship, while often remaining grounded in colonial legacies. It also unpacks the assumptions inherent in the discourse around citizenship and refugeedom, their intersection with race and gender, and their centrality to forced migration. We then examine these themes through a range of case studies that take in the US, South Africa, Haiti and the Levant, as well as the partitions and creation of new borders in India-Pakistan and Palestine-Israel. The course concludes by considering the de facto contemporary border between Global North and Global South, its implications for refugees, and its connections to colonial structures.

Refugee Economies

Professor Naohiko Omata

This course explores a crucial but under-researched question: What difference does it make, in economic terms, to be a refugee? Alongside the daunting scale of protracted displacement worldwide, there has been growing interest in the developmental and economic potential of refugees across both policy and academic arenas. Although refugees engage in economic activities and participate in markets in their host states, their economic lives are inevitably shaped by aspects of ‘refugeehood’ - particular legal, social, political and institutional contexts that relate to being a refugee. The course investigates what makes refugees’ economic lives analytically distinctive and examines a range of factors that lead to variation in economic strategies and outcomes for refugees. It takes an inter-disciplinary approach by integrating the work of anthropologists, sociologist, economists, geographers, political scientists, and practitioners. The geographical scope is global but a particular focus is given to refugees living in the Global South, including both camp and non-camp settings. 

Statelessness:  Politics, Knowledge, Resistance

Dr Dilar Dirik

Refugees, indigenous peoples and 'non-state' communities often have uneasy relationships with knowledge production, such as history-writing, documentation, and archiving. Often, vulnerable communities resort to practices of state evasion that render them invisible, unknowable and – therefore - ungovernable. This affects and shapes the ways they seek to preserve their memories and knowledge. Understanding these alternative archives requires alternative methodologies and scholarship. 

This three-part course challenges the modern nation-state by focusing on life worlds, practices, and agencies within those whose livelihoods have been destroyed by state systems.

The first part of the course will lay out common issues around the state, power, and knowledge. In what ways is our understanding of the world shaped by histories, structures and systems like colonialism, racism and sexism? How do media, NGOs, and humanitarian institutions shape our perception of certain communities? By drawing on feminist and indigenous critiques of contemporary research methodologies, the second part will encourage students to engage with the knowledge produced by communities and movements in the context of violence, displacement and suppression. Finally, the last part of the course will delve into recently displaced or dispossessed communities’ alternative, often unrecognised forms of collective resilience through autonomous knowledge production, grassroots resistance and justice-seeking efforts despite and beyond real or imagined borders. 

The RSC's emphasis on the need to produce scholarship that is both theoretically grounded as well as likely to have a real world impact has had a profound influence on the way that I teach.

Kate Ogg, MSc in Refugee & Forced Migration Studies 2011-12, now Lecturer, Australian National University

Graduates of the MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies have gone on to doctoral degrees, law school, and work relevant to human rights, refugees, and migration. Graduates of the course are now employed in organisations such as the UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration, UNDP, Save the Children, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Brookings and MacArthur Foundations, as well as national governments and universities around the world.

Find out more about what some recent graduates of the course are doing now.


Photo: UNHCR / A Duclos

Please refer to the course webpage on the University's Graduate Admissions pages for full information on selection criteria, application deadlines and English language requirements. Also see our How to Apply page.

Enquiries about the MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies should be addressed to the Graduate Student Administrator,