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 2021/22 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 2021-22:

The Anthropology of Forced Migration

Dr Hanno Brankamp

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 Hanno Brankamp

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.


Option courses on the degree change from year to year. Below is a list of courses expected to run in 2021/22. In addition, students will also be able to choose from a pool of courses from the MSc in Migration Studies. 

International Human Rights and Refugee Law II

Dr Catherine Briddick and Dr Yulia Ioffe (UCL)

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 scrutinise States’ use of detention and/or encampment. We also consider other issues that arise in the context of international protection, but which are also governed by their own, distinct, legal regimes. These topics include the rights of children and trafficked persons. 

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.

Refugee Economies

Professor Naohiko Omata

This course explores the crucial but under-researched question: What difference does it make, in economic terms, to be a refugee? Amidst the daunting scale of protracted displacement worldwide, there has been growing interest in the development and economic potential of refugees across both policy and academic arenas. Although refugees engage in economic activities in their host states, their economic lives are usually shaped by various aspects of ‘refugeehood’ – defined as the legal, social, political and/or institutional contexts in which refugees find themselves in exile. By examining a range of factors that influence refugees’ economic decisions, strategies and outcomes, the course investigates the ways in which their economic lives are analytically distinct. It takes an interdisciplinary approach by integrating the work of anthropologists, economists, sociologists, geographers, political scientists, lawyers, and practitioners.  

This course closely draws upon the ‘Refugee Economies’ research project based at the RSC, which is a large-scale multi-country study on the economic lives of refugees and host populations in both refugee camps and urban cities across Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia. The course will incorporate findings from the research into class materials and invite ‘refugee researchers’ from these countries as guest speakers, offering students the opportunity to engage with the emic views from the field.

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.

Dispossession and Displacement in the Modern Middle East

Dawn Chatty (at Oriental Studies)

Dispossession and forced migration have come to be a defining feature of the contemporary Middle East.  Yet involuntary movement of peoples has indelibly marked the region throughout the last 150 years.  This course examines the history of forced migration through an anthropological lens, engaging with concepts such as:  space and place, ethnicity, identity, belonging, nationalism, orientalism, cosmopolitanism, hybridity, and local conviviality, resilience, and integration.  It engages with the forced migrations of Circassians from the borderlands of Imperial Russia, the Armenians, and the Kurds from Anatolia, the Palestinians, and Iraqis and Syrians in the Levant.  The course addresses these dispossessions as part of the clash of empire, carried further by the colonial, neo-colonial as well as the contemporary neo-conservative political encounters.  It engages with the ways in which these peoples have integrated without assimilating and developed a local cosmopolitanism. And finally, it examines whether such local conviviality can survive the current displacement and evictions of peoples, for example, from Syria. 

Carceral Spaces

Dr Hanno Brankamp

Confinement and mobility control are key features of global migration systems. Refugees, migrants and other people on the move routinely face detention, encampment, imprisonment or are deprived of their mobility and freedoms in other ways. Captivity is thereby a debilitating bodily experience but is also embedded in more far-reaching systems of racialised, gendered, and classed injustice, violence, punishment, extraction and social control. Paradoxically, incarceration is sometimes also justified as humanitarian, protective and economically rational. At the same time, carceral conditions are by no means limited to those who migrate or cross borders but are also characteristic of contemporary society at large. Although prisons are the archetypical carceral spaces, they are but one among many technologies that can restrict human liberty. In fact, there is a growing recognition that forms of imprisonment now seem to lurk virtually everywhere and anywhere—they appear as much in physical locations as in imaginaries, discourses, psychological states and wider social relations.

This course introduces the geographies of mobility control by examining a variety of such ‘carceral spaces’. It begins by spatialising the relationship between forced migration, (im)mobility and questions of (un)freedom. Each following week will then focus on a different space of incarceration—the prison, the camp, the plantation, the sea, the island, the border and the indigenous reserve—which will be discussed using theory and case studies from different time periods and geographical world regions. Ultimately, the course investigates not only what constitutes the ‘carceral’ in each of these sites, how they differ and may relate to each other, but also sheds light on forms of resistance, refusal and abolition that challenge these coercive infrastructures and practices. Drawing on scholarship in critical geography, black studies, queer and feminist studies, sociology and beyond, this course explores the nature, lived experiences, and conceptualisations of carceral spaces and their enduring relevance for the study of (forced) migration.

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,