About the Author

Jacqueline Bhabha, JD, MsC is a Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She is also the Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Lecturer in Law at Harvard Law School, and Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. She is the Director of Research at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard’s only university wide Human Rights research center. From 1997 to 2001 Bhabha founded and directed the Human Rights Program at the University of Chicago. Prior to 1997, she was a practicing human rights lawyer in London and at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. She has published extensively on issues of transnational child migration, refugee protection, children’s rights and citizenship. She is the author of Child Migration & Human Rights in a Global Age (Princeton University Press, 2014), the editor of Children Without A State (MIT Press, 2011), and of Human Rights and Adolescence (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014). Her current research focuses on adolescents at risk of violence, social exclusion or discrimination. She is actively engaged in several research projects in India, examining the factors that drive access of low caste girls from illiterate families to higher education, and that transform gender norms among children and adolescents. She also works on similar issues within the Roma community in Europe. Bhabha serves on the board of the Scholars at Risk Network, the World Peace Foundation and the Journal of Refugee Studies.

Book Description

Every minute 24 people are forced to leave their homes and over 65 million are currently displaced world-wide. Small wonder that tackling the refugee and migration crisis has become a global political priority. 

But can this crisis be resolved and if so, how? In this compelling essay, renowned human rights lawyer and scholar Jacqueline Bhabha explains why forced migration demands compassion, generosity and a more vigorous acknowledgement of our shared dependence on human mobility as a key element of global collaboration. Unless we develop humane 'win-win' strategies for tackling the inequalities and conflicts driving migration and for addressing the fears fueling xenophobia, she argues, both innocent lives and cardinal human rights principles will be squandered in the service of futile nationalism and oppressive border control. 


“Jacqueline Bhabha has long been one of the most astute observers of forced migration. Here, she brings her insight to bear on this great issue of our time, offering original and compelling ways of rethinking the challenges ahead.” -Matthew J. Gibney, University of Oxford 

“This readable yet impressively researched book provides a comprehensive account of how we should think about one of the most complex and urgent problems of our time.” -Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, former UN Commissioner for Human Rights and President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice

"This book is an insightful and passionate argument for finding a humane resolution to the problems that cause and attend distress migration." -Publishers Weekly 

The Virtual Book Tour was brought to you by HKS Library & Research Services. As of Spring 2019, our faculty video series is called Behind the Book. Contact us with inquiries.

Jacqueline Bhaba:

My name is Jacqueline Bhabha and I'm a professor of the practice of health and human rights at the Harvard Chan School of public health and elector at Harvard Law School, and associate professor at the Kennedy School. I'm here to talk about my recent book called Can We Solve The Migration Crisis?

People often ask me, what is the migration crisis? My answer is that we actually have a acceptance crisis or a reception crisis or maybe even a compassion crisis. In my book, I talk about this very long history of human migration. From the beginning of our species, people have migrated and migration is really a fact of human life. I think the reason why people have this perception of a crisis is because our policies for receiving all sorts of different types of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, other types of migrants are badly attuned to the needs that our countries have.

I'm most concerned with what I call distress migration, that broad category of migration that covers people who are forced to leave their home. As a kind of global community if you like, we have decided that we owe basic human support and human compassion to people who are fleeing persecution and those are people who we call asylum seekers, but there is a much larger group of people who don't fall within the narrow legal definition, but who are still forced to leave home. I argue in my book that we should address the needs of those people too and that in many cases we aren't addressing those needs adequately.

The main thesis of my book is I think a fairly simple one. It is that the answer to the question, can we solve the migration crisis is yes, but we can't solve it just by dealing with migration issues. We can't just build a wall. It's not going to work. We can't just ban Muslims. Not going to work. I argue that there are several big problems which contribute to the pressures to migrate.

The first is conflict. If you don't solve or address conflict, you're never going to address migration flows. Everybody is going to try to flee when their life is in danger. My second point is that another major contributor to distress migration is climate change. Unless we have a much more robust set of policies in place to address environmental refugees and their needs, we are going to be constantly surprised by arrivals of people. Thirdly, I think a dramatic factor precipitating migration is increasing global inequality. Within countries and between regions, there are growing disparities and where you have enormous disparities in quality of life, it's only natural that people with any entrepreneurial instinct with any ability to move are going to try and move. And so, that again is another precipitator of migration.

I do make several policy recommendations in the book. You cannot have a viable and sustainable refugee policy if all the responsibility for new arrivals is very disproportionately concentrated in some communities and not at all present in others, and that's what we have at the moment. Communities that would be and have been hospitable and generous and open turn when they feel they're not getting any help, then it becomes unsustainable. The first policy recommendation is to find productive ways to encourage, incentivize and ensure responsibility sharing, and that's a main burden of a lot of the creative thinking at the moment in the refugee field.

I think people should read my book because it addresses a very important issue. It's a short book. It's only about a hundred pages. It's not a scholarly book. It has very few footnotes. I think it's easily readable, and I would hope that most people are interested in a topic that creates such enormous suffering and has such a high visibility in our society today.

I spent my life working on migration issues. I wrote this book because I really wanted to reach a broad audience because I wanted people to think about how positive a force migration is and how much of a responsibility we all have as people, many of us who benefit from the countries that we live in and from the histories of those countries, how much of a responsibility we have to people who are far away, who have desperate needs that we think of as unconnected to our own lives, but that should be connected.