University of Sussex secures £4.3 million for action research on displacement and infrastructure

Greengrocer in Colombo, Sri Lanka
  • Research across 10 countries will shed light on the economies of communities affected by longer-term displacement
  • Research across 4 countries will explore how infrastructure projects can reduce rather than increase inequality
  • Both projects will connect communities in different parts of the world and seek to influence policy and practice

Two innovative projects led by the Sussex Centre for Migration Research (SCMR) will inform local, national and global responses to protracted displacement and exclusionary infrastructure. Both projects are funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Global Challenges Research Fund.

Many refugees and internally displaced people are unable to return home, even after several years. Protracted Displacement Economies will see SCMR and its research partners examine how entire communities affected by longer-term displacement – displaced people, host populations and other groups – engage in economic activities. Crucially, these economic activities include often overlooked non-financial transactions, such as mutual aid, gifts and care work. The research will help policymakers to understand the true potential of such communities.

Dr. Shahida Aman, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Peshawar, one of the Protracted Displacement Economies partners, said: “The challenge of hosting and economically sustaining the more than 3 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan (both registered and unregistered) is as relevant now as it was when the conflict first began in 1979. This project’s research into the visible and not so visible economies of such communities will generate evidence and understanding to be shared and engaged with in conflict situations across the world. This includes informing initiatives for local development as well as for the voluntary, safe and honourable repatriation of refugees to their home countries.”

Meanwhile the urban poor, including refugees and migrants, often face the threat of eviction, especially in the face of major infrastructure projects. Towards Trajectories of Inclusion will see SCMR and its research partners investigate the ways in which desperately needed infrastructure for the most marginalised can improve housing security and access to basic services, rather than deepen exclusion and inequality. Making infrastructure work for the most marginalised will only become more important as cities in Africa and Asia rapidly expand.   

Dr. Beth Chitekwe-Biti, Acting Managing Director at Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI), one of the Towards Trajectories of Inclusion partners, said: “As an international network that brings together slum dweller organisations in over 100 cities in the Global South, SDI values the coproduction of knowledge and better understanding of exclusion that this research will bring. We are especially keen on developing evidence of how marginalised communities in the physical and metaphorical ‘off-grid’ of the focus cities can ensure better access to quality services, and how these insights may be more widely applied in other cities in the Global South.”

In both projects, research teams will facilitate community discussions, surveys and interviews. The projects will also empower community members to creatively document their socio-economic realities, for example by taking photos and producing short videos. These creative narratives will be shared across research locations, thereby enabling displacement-affected communities and marginalised people in urban areas to learn from the experiences of similar communities in different parts of the world.

Professor Michael Collyer, the projects’ Principal Investigator, said: “These projects will contribute to the ways in which we think about forced displacement and urban infrastructure. They build on a long history of research into migration and development at the University of Sussex, conducted in partnership with institutions around the world. We hope that the research will improve responses to displacement and urban poverty, crucially by recognising and amplifying the expertise of people who are directly affected.


1 – One of the first centres on Migration in the UK, the Sussex Centre for Migration Research (SCMR) builds on a longstanding reputation for original theoretically driven empirical research in the field of migration and ethnic relations. SCMR is based in the University of Sussex’s School of Global Studies.

2 – The University of Sussex’s partners on the Protracted Displacement Economies project are: Group de Recherche et d’Études Stratégiques sur le Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo); Organization for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (Ethiopia); Basmeh & Zeitooneh and Sawa for Development & Aid (both Lebanon); Covenant Institute (Myanmar); University of Peshawar (Pakistan); and Institute for Development Studies and Queen Mary University of London (both UK).

3 – The University of Sussex’s partners on the Towards Trajectories of Inclusion project are: International Centre for Climate Change & Development and BRAC Urban Development Programme (both Bangladesh); Institute for Peace & Conflict Studies and Somaliland Ministry of Planning & National Development (both Somaliland); Centre for Migration Research & Development and Sevanantha (both Sri Lanka); Durham University, Institute for Development Studies and PositiveNegatives (all UK); Development Governance Institute and Dialogue on Shelter (both Zimbabwe); and Slum/Shack Dwellers International (global).

4 – UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. UKRI aims to maximise the contribution of each of its component parts, working individually and collectively. It works with many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas. Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £8 billion, UKRI brings together the seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England.

5 – The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5 billion fund supporting cutting-edge research and innovation that addresses the global issues faced by developing countries, and forms part of the UK Government’s Official Development Assistance commitment. It harnesses the strengths of the UK’s world-leading researchers enabling them to collaborate with experts in developing countries through equitable partnerships. GCRF focuses on funding challenge-led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research; strengthening capability for research, innovation and knowledge exchange; and providing an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research or on-the-ground need. GCRF is managed by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and delivered through nine partners.

This press release was originally published on the University of Sussex website on 26 November 2020