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Center for Human Rights and International Justice

Ethical Issues Raised By the Plight Of Refugees and Other Displaced Persons

Refugee Studies, led by Professor David Hollenbach SJ


There are an estimated 51 million or more refugees and internally displaced people in the world today according to the UNHCR, the highest level in about 20 years. These people have been driven from their homes by civil and international conflicts and natural disasters.  The sheer number of people who have been driven from their homes by civil and international conflicts and natural catastrophes poses unprecedented challenges, many of them ethical in nature. Coping with the plight of refugees and displaced persons, with their effects on the communities that receive them, and with the tasks of reconciliation and reconstruction in the aftermath of conflicts raises fundamental questions of moral responsibility and action for scholars and practitioners alike.

Visit our Migration Information and Resources page for some figures and definitions to better understand the magnitude of the displaced persons issue.

The Center has embarked upon this collaborative project in partnership with Catholic Relief Services, the Jesuit Refugee Service, and the Institute for Peace and International Relations at Hekima College of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. It will identify and analyze the multidimensional issues raised by forced migration confronting those who seek to aid forced migrants in the African context. Greater clarity about these important ethical issues will inform the development of more effective political and humanitarian responses.


In October of 2006, the Center hosted the first phase of this project, a four-day conference in Nairobi Kenya entitled Ethical Responsibilities Toward Forced Migrants as a Framework for Advocacy.  The conference brought together practitioners working with people displaced by humanitarian crises and academic specialists in the study of forced migration and social ethics.  Ethical issues arising out of the conference discussions included refugeeā€™s freedom of movement, the gender dimension of forced migration, international responses to forced migration, as well as the need to recognize the plural identifications of refugees and internally displaced persons. 

Two books on the rights of forced migrants have emerged from this work in recent years:

Professor Hollenbach is currently on sabbatical during the 2013-2014 academic year, and is working on a new book as part of this project, tentatively entitled Humanity in Crisis: Religious and Ethical Responses.