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Jacqueline Bhabha Photo

Jacqueline Bhabha

Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, HSPH; Jeremiah Smith Jr. Lecturer in Law, HLS


Migration is a central political and moral issue of our time and its impacts will continue to alter our world throughout this century. Indeed large scale, irregular human migration should be considered “the new normal”, not an unexpected or one-off “crisis”.   It affects the lives of millions, unsettles established governments, creates sharply polarizing policy dilemmas and generates far-reaching administrative, economic and political challenges.  This course will focus on distress migration, including refugee flight and other forms of forced displacement, evaluated through the lens of human rights.  It will address the multifaceted drivers of the phenomenon, including the enduring legacies of colonization, armed conflict, environmental stress and climate change, global inequality, demographic pressures and increasing globalization. The course will also consider the impact of government responses to the COVID 19 pandemic on forced migrants.  Migration actors from UN agencies, NGOs and other civil society organizations, and research experts working in a range of field sites will contribute to the class.

The course will address the legal frameworks governing migration, and the ethical and pragmatic considerations that influence policies. It will explore the viability of a range of solutions to current migration challenges, including unequal access to protection, the failure of equitable resettlement and the erosion of host empathy/solidarity.  The extent to which pandemic related measures conform to or violate legal and ethical obligations will also be considered.  A key goal is to enable students to analyze current migration situations with clarity and rigor concerning the obligations of states and the rights of migrants. Using examples of large-scale contemporary population movements – the Rohingya exodus, the Venezuelan context, the Mediterranean migration situation, extensive intra-regional mobility within the African continent, US/Mexico/Central American movements, unaccompanied child migration in many regions – the course will examine migration drivers, policy responses and rights challenges such as detention, prolonged confinement within refugee camps and forced repatriation. It will also engage with the multiple risks, including trafficking, drowning, sexual violence, that migrants face before, during and after their journeys. The course will cover key current policy developments, at the municipal, national, regional and international level, including the impact of Global Compacts on Refugees and on Migration. The course will discuss seasonal migration, child migration, undocumented and irregular status, gender factors in migration and the role of xenophobia in driving policy. Students will be encouraged to consider a range of strategies for increasing access to safe mobility as a key redistributive global good.

Also offered by the Law School as 2424.