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6 Fields to Study to Help Refugees

The United Nations Refugee Agency estimates over 80 million people have been displaced worldwide since 2000 due to persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations, or natural disaster. Today, 20 million refugees are seeking temporary or permanent asylum in countries all over the world. What's more, almost half of those displaced are aged 18 or under. That's the highest number on living records. So what can we do to help those searching for a safer and better life? Volunteering is an excellent way to make a difference. Donating also helps. Many refugee charities run solely on the generosity of the public. However, for the most committed people, sparing a few hours a week just doesn't seem like enough. Instead, they want to play a more active role in supporting those who need it most. If that sounds like you, here are six fields of study and careers you can pursue to help refugees.

Jun 20, 2021
  • Education
6 Fields to Study to Help Refugees


Lawyers ensure refugees get fair and equal representation during their asylum applications. Lawyers provide their clients with legal information, file documents on their behalf, and represent them in court. Lawyers also play a crucial role in protecting refugee rights once they arrive in a new country. According to the UN, refugees should receive at least the same rights and basic help as any other foreigner who is a legal resident. That includes freedom of thought, freedom of movement, and freedom from degrading treatment. For example, lawyers in the UK representing a group of refugees staying at a former army barracks have advocated for better facilities, described the location as run-down, filthy, and decrepit. The case was successful as the High Court ruled Napier Barracks in Kent is "squalid", "unsafe", and that overcrowding there led to an outbreak of 200 cases of COVID-19. The ruling could see a damages claim against Home Secretary Priti Patel.


Doctors Without Borders is an international medical non-governmental organization working in more than 70 countries. Its team of doctors and healthcare specialists save people's lives in conflict zones, and provide rapid response support for those affected or displaced by natural disasters, as well as epidemics. In a Doctors Without Borders field hospital, it's not uncommon to see wounded civilians receiving treatment alongside injured soldiers from opposing sides. The organization also runs awareness events and advocates on behalf of refugees. In 2019, it ran a 'Seeking Safety is Not a Crime Campaign' on social media. It was a response to US government measures imposed a series of strict migration policies, forcing asylum seekers and refugees to take more dangerous steps. In many cases, this includes paying criminal gangs to smuggle them across the US/Mexican border. There are other great organizations doing similar work, including social workers and psychologists to help refugees manage the psychological impact of migration.

Migration studies

Launched in January 2017, the Migration Lab is a joint initiative between The University of Manchester and the Global Development Institute. It brought together more than 70 academics and policymakers to discuss and implement innovative research on migration, refugee issues, and asylum. With the support of significant research grants, the Migration Lab is examining changing notions of home in relation to geographical spaces, contesting the politics of border zones, and challenging top-down economic approaches to migration. Other projects include Dr. Tanja Bastia's work on aging and migration in Bolivia. The South American country is one of the poorest nations on the continent, and young people looking for better economic opportunities have little option but to migrate. This means elderly parents and grandparents are often left behind. Bastia's research explores the social, cultural, and economic consequences for generations of migrants who are forced to live apart.

Conflict resolution

Civil war broke out in Syria on 15th March 2011. Since then, over 13 million Syrians have been forcibly displaced, with over six million seeking asylum in neighboring and other countries. In 2019, the de-escalating violence in some regions allowed a small number of Syrians to return to safe zones. However, it will be a long time before the rest can even think about going home. Even then, Syria will be a very different country from the one they left. The current situation in Syria emphasizes the importance of conflict resolution. Generally speaking, conflict resolution refers to international efforts to prevent or mitigate violence resulting from intergroup or interstate conflict. It uses a wide range of methods and procedures for addressing disputes, including negotiation, mediation, diplomacy, and creative peacebuilding. The University of Marburg in Germany and the University of Kent in the UK offer bachelor's modules and master's degree programs in Peace and Conflict Studies. Students learn about intergroup conflicts, major human rights violations, as well as the processes that can bring and support peace and rebuild post-war societies.

Refugee studies

Migration and asylum are going to be increasingly important issues during the next decade. In fact, safer and fairer migration policies are essential for the United Nations 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. This transformative and ambitious plan aims to leave nobody behind as we enter a new period of economic and technological growth. One of the UN’s 2030 targets is to build stronger infrastructure, particularly in developed countries, to host refugees. This includes housing, legal support networks, healthcare facilities, and education programs. To help make this happen, the world needs thousands of committed and well-trained migration professionals.

To this end, universities are now offering bachelor's and master's degrees specializing in refugee studies. For example, courses are available at the University of Chicago, the University of Oxford, London South Bank, and many more. These important and innovative degrees prepare students for careers in immigration law, nonprofits, refugee resettlement, international organizations, and government institutions. Klaudia Wegschaider graduated with an MSc In Migration Studies in 20016. Now she's spearheading efforts to help new arrivals settle in Germany. “As well as studying for my Ph.D., I work for one of the world's largest private nonprofit foundations,” says Klaudia. "I support German municipalities in setting up a welcoming and integration plan for refugees. I'm also part of the consultative process for the UN Global Compact on Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration. I feel proud and humbled to be doing work that really makes a difference. I couldn't imagine doing anything else."

International aid worker

International aid workers usually work for charities or organizations within developing countries. They can work on development projects in education, sanitation, health, agriculture, and human rights. International aid work is extremely rewarding work and offers a very different lifestyle from the 9-5 office routine. However, it's also challenging, emotionally taxing, and sometimes dangerous. For example, you could find yourself living in a makeshift camp out in the Sub-Saharan African Bush, working 12-hour days and being hundreds of miles away from anything resembling a city. Alternatively, you might be in charge of delivering aid packages for refugees trapped in a war zone, or being one of the first people on the ground following a natural disaster.

International aid work is also highly competitive. "It’s not an easy sector to get into," says Martha Reggiori-Wilkes, an international relations graduate who has worked with NGOs in South Sudan and Lebanon. "It can sound like a quite romantic thing to do. And there are lots of very, very good people who want to do it." Martha advises aspiring aid workers to get a bachelor's and master's degree in a relevant subject. International relations, social care, and refugee studies are all excellent options. You'll also need some volunteer or internship experience on your CV. Those with relevant skills can have an easier time finding work. "If you're a nurse, then it is quite easy to get a job because then you have a specialist skill,” continues Martha. "A nutrition expert is helpful as well. But even if you can bring a needed skill to the table, you'll still need to spend some time volunteering in a developing country before you get a paid job."

These are just some of the careers that can make a difference to the lives of refugees. Other options include resettlement officer, support worker, journalist, and teacher. As long as you have the passion, each of these roles can make a tangible contribution to building a better world where everyone has the opportunity to live a safe and rewarding life.

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Migration Studies
Ashley Murphy


After graduating with a degree in English literature and creative writing, Ashley worked as a bartender, insurance broker, and teacher. He became a full-time freelance writer in 2016. He lives and writes in Manchester, England.