In 1982 the Refugee Studies Programme (as the Centre was then known) started with a weekly seminar as an off-shoot of a three year research fellowship given to Dr Barbara Harrell-Bond by the Overseas Development Administration (the precursor to the UK Department for International Development). It rapidly gained momentum as a focal point for the study of refugee issues, into which input from refugees and host government officials was crucial. From the beginning a balance was kept between academic and practitioner so that research undertaken by the Programme was of relevance to all concerned with refugee policies. The Refugee Studies Programme sought to become an international forum of fresh directions in policy and practice.
Fast forward 30 years and the RSC’s Anniversary Conference on ‘Understanding Global Refugee Policy’ in December 2012 continued our tradition of promoting interdisciplinary and collaborative work to offer new and valuable insights for scholars, policymakers and practitioners. James Milner, in a plenary speech, underscored the Centre’s aim of bridging the divides between scholarship, policy and practice, citing David Turton, a former director of the Centre, who once argued that ‘there is no justification for studying, and attempting to understand, the causes of human suffering if the purpose of one’s study is not, ultimately, to find ways of relieving and preventing that suffering’.
The previous month, the RSC held the Annual Harrell-Bond Lecture which also focussed on global-level policymaking processes, as Professor Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, Co-Director of Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, spoke on ‘The architecture of refugee protection’. The lecture coincided with the 80th birthday of Dr Barbara Harrell-Bond, in whose name the annual event was established, and the happy occasion was marked by a reception and photographic exhibition. Both events served to remind us of the great kindness and support shown by colleagues and friends of the Centre, and we are very grateful for all the generous comments that we have since received.
A third milestone in the past few months was the 25th anniversary of Forced Migration Review. In November 1987 the first issue of a newsletter was published by the RSC in response to a call for a forum for information exchange between researchers and practitioners. That newsletter, originally called the Refugee Participation Network newsletter, became Forced Migration Review, and is still going strong today. To mark 25 years of debate, learning and advocacy, the FMR Editors are compiling a collection of articles by researchers, policymakers and practitioners who have written for and supported FMR through the years. These articles will reflect on what has changed – or has not changed – in relation to many of the themes covered by FMR and its predecessor RPN.