CRS Projects

Current Projects

Refugee Law Laboratory @CRS
Led by Prof. Sean Rehaag, the project will gather academics, lawyers, and technologists at a pop-up Refugee Law Laboratory in a wing of York University’s Centre for Refugee Studies. This Lab will replicate the feel and energy of a law and tech start-up, bringing together researchers with expertise in law, data science, computer programming and statistics to examine the unique and interdisciplinary dimensions of legal analytics and AI in refugee law decision-making. This diverse team will interrogate the under-explored intersection of administrative decision-making and technological developments that have increasingly far-reaching impacts on human lives and human rights. The team will do so by working with one of the most comprehensive databases on refugee adjudication in the world (outside of databases maintained by governments or international organizations), which has been constructed by the PI through prior SSHRC funded research, and which will be updated and expanded for this project.
Specifically, the project aims to:

  1. create new substantive and methodological knowledge about refugee law decision-making by leveraging legal analytics and AI technologies;
  2. explore the human rights implications of these new technologies in an area where those subject to these technologies encounter various intersecting vulnerabilities;
  3. test the viability of a public model for developing and deploying legal analytics and AI in legal decision-making in a way that counters, rather than exacerbates, power imbalances; and,
  4. provide training opportunities for students and emerging scholars who will go on to be leaders in this field.
Local Engagement Refugee Research Network (LERRN)
Led by Prof. James Milner at Carleton University, along with CRS co-applicants Profs. Jennifer Hyndman and Dagmar Soennecken along with partners across Canada, USA, Kenya, Lebanon, Jordan, Australia and Tanzania, this is a team of researchers and practitioners committed to promoting protection and solutions with and for refugees. Their goal is to ensure that refugee research, policy and practice are shaped by a more inclusive, equitable and informed collective engagement of civil society. Through collaborative research, training, and knowledge-sharing, they aim to improve the functioning of the global refugee regime and ensure more timely protection and rights-based solutions for refugees.Their work is focused in the global South, which hosts 85% of the world’s refugees, and responds to the needs and opportunities identified by their partners in major refugee-hosting countries.
Are asylum seekers who attempt to cross borders to obtain refugee protection engaged in “essential travel”?
Led by Prof. Sean Rehaag, this project will examine the legal and humanitarian implications of Canada’s use of executive powers to close the Canadian border to refugees. We will also consider legal and policy strategies to ensure that responses to COVID-19 do not come at the expense of asylum seeker’s rights.
Canadian “Dreamers” in Universities and Colleges: Seeking Education, Seeking Status
Led by Prof. Sean Rehaag in partnership with FCJ Refugee Centre, this project aims to assist FCJ in deciding how to best advocate to create additional paths to post-secondary education, and to then leverage this education to secure permanent residence status (PR) for enrolled students by working closely with students enrolled in this program and with other precarious status youth who are seeking to pursue a post-secondary education.
MeetGary in Translation
Led by Dr. Hilary Evans Cameron, the goal of the project is to increase the accessibility of an English-language website that provides key legal information to refugee claimants. The website’s text will be viewed by an editor who specializes in drafting ‘plain language’ legal education materials, and then to have the site translated into the four other languages spoken by the majority of refugee claimants in Canada.
Closing the Integration Gap: Assessing Impacts of Social Networks & Integration of Government Assisted Refugee Newcomers
Led by Prof. Craig Damian Smith, this project brings together Political Science, Economics, and Migration Studies with civil society to examine pressing scholarly, policy, and social questions around refugee integration.
Refugee integration and long-term health outcomes in Canada
Led by Prof. Michaela Hynie, this research will compare how government-assisted refugee (GAR) and private-sponsored refugee (PAR) resettlement programs support long-term social integration pathways for refugees and the impact of these pathways on physical and mental health. Research will take place over a five-year period.Resettled refugees have poorer health than host populations, and studies show that social integration affects wellness; however, there is a lack of research examining how the experiences of settlement and integration contribute to the long-term health of refugees.“Canada’s private sponsorship program for resettled refugees is unique in the world, and is of considerable interest to other countries, but its effectiveness relative to government sponsorship is largely unknown,” said Hynie. “This grant is an important opportunity for us to understand how, and under what conditions, the different resettlement programs in Canada support the long-term health and well-being of resettled refugees in Canada, and to gain a deeper understanding of the social determinants of refugee health.”
Probing Private Refugee Resettlement in Canada
Led by Prof. Jennifer Hyndman, the overall aim of the project is to produce and share new knowledge about private refugee sponsorship in Canada. Since March 2016, and at the September 2016 UN Summit in New York City on refugees and migrants, the federal government has committed to ‘exporting’ its expertise about Canada’s unique private resettlement program for refugees. At present, however, very little is known about what characteristics of place and people are correlated with and sustain ongoing sponsorship by private citizens, whether in cities and more rural areas. This project will fill a gap in the scholarly literature, but will also have several applications in policy and practice. In 2016, Canada is expected to resettle 44,800 refugees (Casasola, 2016), more than ever before in a single year; almost half of these will be privately-sponsored in whole or part.
ReCentering the Mediterranean: Refugee Resettlement on the Sicilian Borderland
Led by  Dr. Antonio Sorge, this project examines the dynamics of an encounter among Italian-Canadian return migrants, refugees from the global south, and refugee rights advocates in rural Sicily. The research site is Cattolica Eraclea, a rural town in southeastern Sicily where property seized from the Mafia has been used to offer work and housing to refugees who have been resettled locally. At the same time, Italian-Canadian return migrants, primarily organized within the “Association Cattolica Eraclea,” a community and business association in Montreal, have over the past two decades settled and created a transnational dynamic in their town of origin or ancestry.This research will produce insights into an emergent vision of Sicily as a culturally hybrid zone defined by a history of crossborder flows, reflecting a process whereby Sicilians actively seek to recentre the Mediterranean Sea as the fount of the island’s cosmopolitan identity. The articulation of such a vision of Sicily is noteworthy within the context of the current clampdown on migration at the behest of a populist rightwing coalition government in Italy. As a site of both return migration and refugee resettlement, the town of Cattolica Eraclea offers the ideal location to examine this question.
Governing Refugees by Vetting
Led by Prof. Ozgun Topak, this project aims to be the first comprehensive academic study about the refugee vetting process and its broader implications for our understanding of refugee resettlement, surveillance, humanitarianism, and refugee rights and subjectivity. It will make four substantive contributions to this related literature. First, it will contribute to the Canadian and international refugee resettlement literature where most research is concentrated on refugee integration issues rather than the vetting process. Second, it will contribute to the literature on surveillance through examining how multiple surveillance technologies and actors are involved in the refugee vetting process. Third, it will examine the complex intersections between surveillance and humanitarianism and analyze how, contentious surveillance practices (such as social media screening or biometrics), perhaps paradoxically, expands and becomes normalized through humanitarian initiatives such as refugee resettlement. Fourth, it will examine how refugees subjectively respond (such as through anxiety, shame, guilt, depression or hope and enthusiasm) to the different parts of the vetting process (interviews, waiting and security screening), thus contributing to the refugee subjectivity literature.The project also aims to provide societal benefits by informing policy-making on Canadian refugee vetting system. Policy suggestions might include: establishing (better) data protection measures, developing better criteria for assessing the security threat posed by refugees, minimizing unnecessary intrusive use of surveillance technologies, improving the interview process in a way that the interviewers develop a better sensitivity towards the psychological conditions of the refugees and their cultural and religious backgrounds, and providing better support (legal, psychological, social) to refugees who are undergoing the vetting process.
Advancing social inclusion in Canada’s diverse communities: Neighbourhood, regional, and national comparisons
Led by Prof. Luann Good Gingrich, this is a four-year study that aims to measure social exclusion – in particular its intersecting, multidimensional, and relational dynamics – with the imperative to devise a meaningful and practical conception of social inclusion for policy formulation and service delivery. In close consultation with collaborators from three community partners (City of Toronto, Social Planning Toronto, and Caledon Institute), the PI and the two academic co-applicants are using secondary quantitative analysis of complex, large-scale datasets, informed by qualitative exploration, to achieve the following specific objectives: to measure the economic, spatial, and socio-political forms of social exclusion; to analyze how these forms of exclusion interact and reinforce one another; to examine social dynamics defined by race/ethnicity, immigrant status, age, gender, and sexuality, with regional comparisons; to detect mitigating factors and strategies; and to translate findings to facilitate targeted social policies and improved ground-level practice.
Subalterity, public education, and welfare cities: Comparing the experience of displaced migrants in three cities
Led by Prof. Ranu Basu, this internationally-based, five-year research project examines a striking triangular link between Toronto, Canada and two cities in the global South (Kolkata, India and Havana, Cuba) to produce a timely new analysis of the interrelationship between the quality of state-based education, the subalterity of displaced migrants, and implications which these issues have for the urban public realm. State funded public education, long valued as a critical tool for reducing inequality, promoting economic mobility and advocating for social justice, can have an ongoing transformative effect on the evolution of the public realm. The ideologies, policies and practices of state-funded education distinctly shape various aspects of social justice, including the way urban spaces are produced and contested by those most vulnerable.Adopting a human rights approach, especially for subaltern communities with unique needs and vulnerabilities, has never been more critical in an era of continued neoliberal restructuring which is simultaneously characterized by global unrest, conflict, violence and increased mobility. This project is of particular relevance in reassessing Canada’s role in the global debates on public education as a transformative practice for social mobility and peace building.

Past Projects

Borderless Higher Education for Refugees
The Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) Project aimed to make educational programs available where refugees need them. In the Global South there are currently some 15.2 million people caught in refugee situations, often for ten years or more as an outcome of war, human rights violations, and/or persecution in their home countries. Attending university or accessing other tertiary degree programs has been almost impossible. CRS faculty Wenona Giles and Don Dippo led this project.


Refugee Research Network
The Refugee Research Network (RRN)was created to mobilize and sustain a Canadian and international network of researchers and research centres committed to the study of refugee and forced migration issues and to engaging policy makers and practitioners in finding solutions to the plight of refugees and displaced persons. This initiative built on previous efforts towards establishing a global network of researchers in the field of refugee and forced migration studies funded by the Canadian SSHRC Knowledge Cluster program. Prof. Susan McGrath C.M. led this project.

Final Project Report


Building Bridges across Social and Computational Sciences: Using Big Data to Inform Humanitarian Policy and Interventions
This two-year research project brings together a unique interdisciplinary network of leading social and computer scientists from three universities (York, Wilfrid Laurier and Georgetown) working with humanitarian experts (including UNHCR Canada and CARE Canada) to improve humanitarian
responses to displaced people. Using ‘big data’ about Iraq drawn from Georgetown’s vast, unstructured archive of over 700 million extended open-source media articles (EOS) supplemented with other data sources including qualitative interview data of humanitarian workers, our main objective is to refine our computer analytic tools and theories of migration to identify early indicators of forced displacement. Being able to anticipate who is being displaced and to where will assist humanitarian actors in planning for and responding to their needs. Ideally, the displacement can be prevented; however, an early warning can possibly provide safe corridors for escape and facilitate the effective and efficient pre-positioning of shelter and basic supplies to improve the conditions of those fleeing. Prof. Susan McGrath C.M. is the lead on this project.


Synthesizing indigenous and international social work theory and practice in Rwanda
International social work education has become a priority among Canadian schools of social work and one of the strategies to achieve this goal is the development of joint research ventures. This research partnership was a joint venture among three Canadian Universities and the National University Rwanda that will promote professional social work education and practice in Rwanda and inform global social work practices, knowledge and curricula. The expected outcomes included the generation of new social work knowledge that incorporates indigenous knowledge and methods with international social work theory and practice; the building and strengthening of partnerships between and among Canadian and Rwandan institutions, practitioners and researchers; the local support of social work practice and education; and, finally, the improvement of the well-being of the people of Rwanda. This project contributed to an emerging body of knowledge in Canadian concerning social work engagement in a globalized world. As such, it helped to inform current issues and debates pertaining to the indigenization of social work knowledge which has direct implications for developing post-colonial social work practice with Aboriginal peoples in Canada and the social inclusion of immigrants and refugees in our context as well as applications of best practice as part of international partnerships. Prof. Susan McGrath C.M. was the lead on this project.


Indo-chinese Refugee Movement
The Centre for Refugee Studies and the Canadian Immigration Historical Society are working together on a multi-pronged project that will review the historic significance and contemporary relevance of the 1975-80 resettlement of Indochinese refugees though the Private Sponsorship Program. This initiative was led by Prof. James C. Simeon.


Critical Issues in International Refugee Law
The Critical Issues in International Refugee Law Research Workshop was part of the “Refugee Law” Research Clusters of the Refugee Research Network (RRN), led by Prof. James C. Simeon.  It brought together distinguished Superior and High court judges, legal scholars, leading academics as well as senior governmental and international organizations officials, specifically from the UNHCR, but also other UN agencies, and other interested parties, to consider a limited number of critical issues in international refugee law.


Online Research and Teaching Tools
The Online Research and Teaching Tools website provides the public at large with easy and ready access with the information, methods and techniques required in order to excel in both their research and teaching in the interdisciplinary field of refugee and forced migration studies.


Synthesizing Local & International Social Work Practice in Rwanda
This research project, led by Prof. Susan McGrath C.M. built on an established partnership of Rwandan and Canadian Schools of Social Work that share a commitment to social justice and university/community collaborations.