Ethics and displacement

Due out June 2019

Deadline for submission of articles: Monday 18th February 2019

[This issue will also contain a special section of articles on Barbara Harrell-Bond. For more information see]

In the context of displacement, questions relating to ethics – the moral principles governing behaviour – are many, varied and, invariably, challenging. They include not only the more abstract (but nonetheless important) philosophical or moral considerations of obligation to those who are displaced, but also issues of practice relating to programming, safeguarding, research, data gathering and usage, new technologies, staff training and remuneration and media coverage, image use and terminology.

Those who design and implement programmes that are intended to protect displaced people have a responsibility to put in place adequate and effective safeguarding, including against sexual exploitation. The same obligation also extends to those local, national and international staff who are providing assistance. Researchers – many of whom already follow ethical guidelines – need to continue to critically evaluate how their research is pursued. Those gathering, presenting and using data about refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) must consider not only how data are accurately and responsibly collected but also the ethical implications of how they may be presented and used. And decisions taken about how to present displacement in the media necessarily involve considerations of language, terminology and use of images.

Ethical standpoints that may appear clearly defined in theory can require compromise in practice. Tensions and paradoxes are an inherent part of meeting multiple, often urgent competing needs when providing protection and assistance. It is around such ethical complexities that this issue of FMR seeks to provide insights, ask questions and share good practice. This issue of FMR will provide a forum for practitioners, advocates, policymakers and researchers to share experience, debate perspectives and offer recommendations. In particular, the FMR Editors are looking for practice-oriented submissions, reflecting a diverse range of experience and opinions, which address questions such as the following:


Principles and practices

  • To what extent, and by whom, are the four international humanitarian principles (humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence) being respected?  
  • What tensions or paradoxes can there be between humanitarian codes and protocols and their practical application?
  • How are professional codes of ethics for organisations providing legal aid to refugees, such as the Nairobi Code, being applied in different contexts?
  • What is the role of voluntary codes of conduct for non-governmental actors, such as those developed by organisations carrying out rescues at sea?
  • How do global conversations around ‘responsibility sharing’, including in the context of the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact for Migration, reflect current and emerging ethical standpoints?
  • What progress is being made by the humanitarian and research communities and the private sector in taking and promoting an ethical stance about issues such as the environment, business and employment practices, and funding, including in their practical responses to displacement?
  • What new ethical issues emerge from the expansion of private sector involvement in humanitarian assistance?
  • What are the ethical issues that arise from the power relations between international staff, local staff, volunteers and displaced people?
  • What needs to be done to ensure effective safeguarding of displaced people, including against sexual exploitation and sexual and gender-based violence? Are there positive examples of new approaches being undertaken by local, national and international actors? How are organisations tackling internal cases of abuse and sexual harassment?
  • How can commitments to long-term change as made at the 2018 Safeguarding Summit in London be met and sustained? How are the practical measures agreed being implemented, and to what effect?
  • What influence do ethical principles have on responses to emerging challenges, such as the recording of deaths and disappearances of people of concern? What can be learned from the engagement of civil society and other local actors with such issues?
  • What moral and political responsibilities are displaced people perceived to have, and by whom? How do displaced people understand their responsibilities? What are the effects of any differences between these?



  • In what ways are existing ethical guidelines relating to research with displaced people being used? How are guidelines being adapted for use in different circumstances? Is there a need for internationally agreed standards? How might adherence to these standards be monitored?
  • How can researchers ensure accountability to those who are researched, including follow up about findings and outcomes?
  • How might the international research community address the potential over-researching of particular sites and contexts of displacement? 
  • Can one ever really secure truly ‘informed consent’ in the context of research with displaced people? What questions relating to ethics and responsibilities come into play?
  • How can researchers in contexts of forced migration acknowledge and engage appropriately with the potential risks posed to both participants and researchers by the conducting of research?


Imagery and representation

  • What obligations do journalists and media outlets have in their reporting of displacement-related issues?
  • What obligations do organisations and individuals have to use standardised, appropriate terminology?
  • How can images of displaced people be created and used responsibly? What has been the impact of the growth in smartphones and digital technology on the creation and use of such images?
  • What are the ethics governing the representation of displaced people in advocacy and fundraising? How do displaced people participate in telling their own stories and having a say in how they are represented?


Data and technology

  • What ethical issues arise from the collection, storage and use of biometric data from displaced people?
  • How are those deploying technical innovations such as blockchain technology and virtual reality in situations of displacement taking into consideration the associated ethical issues and responsibilities?
  • What obligations do displacement data providers and users have to ensure that data are ethically gathered, used and presented?


We ask all authors to give appropriate consideration to the particular relevance of their responses to persons with disabilities, to LGBTIQ+ persons, to older persons, and to other groups with specific vulnerabilities, and to seek to include a gendered approach as part of their articles. And we are particularly keen to reflect the experiences and knowledge of communities and individuals directly affected by these questions.

While we are looking for examples of good, replicable practice and experience as well as sound analysis of the issues at stake, we also urge writers to discuss failures and difficulties: what does/did not work so well, and why?


Maximum length: 2,500 words. Please note that space is always at a premium in FMR and that published articles are usually shorter than this maximum length. Your article, if accepted for publication, may well be shortened but you will of course be consulted about any editing changes.

Deadline for submission of articles: 18th February 2019

If you are interested in contributing, please email the Editors at to discuss your ideas for an article. If you have suggestions of colleagues or community representatives who may wish to contribute, please do email us; we are happy to work with individuals to help them develop an article and very keen to have displaced people’s perspectives reflected in the magazine.

If you are planning to write, please take note of our guidelines for authors and submission checklist at

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Forced Migration Review
Refugee Studies Centre
Oxford Department of International Development
University of Oxford
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skype: fmreview