Using education to examine refugee agency in forced migration flows

Ayla Bonfiglio, UNU-MERIT

The literature on refugee higher education is dominated by program evaluations, most often of universities within developed, resettlement country contexts. There are, however, a growing number of studies that examine the experiences of refugees who attempt to access and pursue tertiary education. While not the focus of these studies, they nevertheless reveal that higher education can be linked to specific displacement patterns related to educational mobility during displacement, access to resettlement and other durable solutions, as well as greater wellbeing and integration during displacement. These studies also link the attainment of higher education to refugees’ increased agency. This presentation examines how refugees’ pursuit of higher education can help us understand how they express their agency in shaping their displacement patterns and accessing protection. Using Emirbayer and Mische’s (1998) concept of agency and Bakewell and Bonfiglio’s (2013) adaptation of their concept to examine mobility in conflict settings, as points of departure, this presentation presents research that analyzes more than 100 semi-structured interviews with Somali and Congolese refugees and migrants who are living in Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa on their education and displacement trajectories. Briefly, this presentation will discuss how respondents expressed their agency through higher education in determining the timing of their displacement, the destination, the channels of movement, and the modes of movement.



About the speaker

Ayla Bonfiglio is a Doctoral Fellow at UNU-MERIT and Maastricht University exploring the tertiary education trajectories of refugees within Africa to gain a deeper understanding of agency within forced migration processes and the extent to which education migration may offer an alternative form of protection for refugees. Over the course of her PhD, she has held Visiting/Associate Researcher positions at the International Migration Institute (IMI) at the University of Oxford, the African Centre for Migration and Society at Wits University, the African Migration and Development Policy Centre in Nairobi, and Makerere University. Formerly, Ayla was a Research Officer at IMI working on the Mobility in the African Great Lakes project and the Global Migration Futures project, where she developed future migration scenarios for Europe, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and the Pacific. Ayla obtained an MSc in Forced Migration in 2010 from the University of Oxford. Her dissertation, published by UNHCR, examined non-formal education programs for refugees living in UNHCR-sponsored settlements versus urban areas in Uganda. Ayla also holds a BA (Hons) in Political Science from Columbia University. Her dissertation, which won the Charles A. Beard prize for the best paper in political science in two years, was a comparative study of the levels of self-reliance of urban self-settled and rural settlement refugees in Uganda. Ayla has worked and carried out research in Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Guatemala, and Rwanda. She has worked as a Google Policy Fellow in Washington, D.C. studying the proliferation of African mobile telecommunications and she has worked with the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford on its development and outreach activities.



Venue: Room 0.16-0.17

Date: 31 January 2018

Time: 12:30 - 13:30


UNU-MERIT