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SOAS scholars join £1 million fieldwork project to explore migration

10 July 2014

Three SOAS, University of London scholars will join an interdisciplinary team of researchers for a £1 million fieldwork project exploring rural to urban migration, as part of a new Field Research Programme initiative led by the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) with the Institute of British Geographers (IBG).

Dr Laura Hammond and Dr Maryann Bylander from the Department of Development Studies, and Professor Richard Black, Pro-Director (Research & Enterprise) will be conducting research on the three-year project ‘Migrants on the Margins’. The aim of this research is to deepen the understanding of rural to urban migration. Dr Hammond will be leading on a study in Somaliland and Professor Black will play an advisory role in the project as the society's ‘Field Project Research Champion’.

The research will focus on migration and the vulnerability of migrants in some of the world’s most pressured cities. These include Colombo (Sri Lanka), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Yangon (Burma), Harare (Zimbabwe), Maputo (Mozambique) and Hargeisa (Somaliland). It will involve nine researchers from UK universities (Sussex, Durham and SOAS) and international research partners in each of the study sites.

This project was selected after the RGS-IBG’s 16,500 members and Fellows were asked which geographical issues were most in need of field-based research. Recent research has shown that many people moving away from humanitarian crisis only move short distances and often into marginal urban areas that are just as fragile as those they are trying to escape. It is then all too easy for the migrants to become trapped by poverty and lack of options for finding solutions to their displacement.

The research project will ask why people are leaving their homes, what the experience of moving to the cities is like and how cities and urban areas respond to integration. This project will set out to uncover the complex process of migration and the problems surrounding integration in urban areas.

Dr Laura Hammond said: “In many of these cities migrants have settled for a number of reasons – war, famine, climate change, lack of economic opportunity – and have come looking for a safe and improved livelihood. Many have found, however, that they become even more impoverished in their new environment, and then they become trapped in place – unable to afford to move further or to return to the areas they came from. We are interested in examining further the experiences of these migrants as well as of the urban residents among whom they settle and those involved in urban governance to better understand the challenges that each faces. We hope that the project will offer important lessons for better addressing the needs of migrants and their communities. We are also excited that the RGS-IBG support for this project includes resources for some really exciting elements – public education and outreach, training of students from the regions we are working in, and capacity building of our partner institutions in the six cities.”