My current research program has three related strands.
Geographies of Migrant Politics, Identity, and Belonging
1. After almost 15 years of work on war-related displacement in Sri Lanka I am currently engaged in a project that traces the contours of the Sri Lanka Tamil diaspora in Greater Toronto. Canada hosts the single largest Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora in the world, with other large groups in Britain, Norway, and Australia. In May 2009, the military conflict ended between the rebel Tamil Tigers (aka LTTE) and the Government of Sri Lanka but not without an extraordinary humanitarian disaster and much loss of life among Tamil civilians who were caught in the cross-fire and tactics of the conflict.
The study aims to probe the following questions: in the context of Greater Toronto, what attachments to place do Tamils, both those born in Sri Lanka and their children, have? How do the attachments of first generation of immigrants and refugees from Sri Lanka compare to those Tamils born in Canada? How, if at all, is identity influenced by the human rights atrocities of May 2009 and the end of military conflict? This project is funded by a SSHRC Standard Research Grant held in conjunction with Dr. Geraldine Pratt at UBC who is looking at comparable questions in relation
to the Filipino diaspora in Canada.
Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER)
2. As a co-applicant and collaborator, I am building on two decades of work with Somali refugees in Kenya with a focus on the politics of their protracted displacement and a stopgap set of measures to offset the dramatic waste of human potential in these camps through educational opportunities. The Borderless Higher Education Project aims to bring post-secondary opportunities to refugee students in the Kenyan camps, many of whom have grown up there since the camps were founded in 1992. This work has a research component that also explores the relationships between those refugees who arrived in the 1990s and those who came in 2011, when more than 150,000 Somalis fled to Kenya escaping drought and armed conflict. Dr. Wenona Giles is the principal investigator on this SSHRC partnership grant that involves a number of universities in several countries.
The Humanitarian Challenge of Dual disasters in Somalia
3. Related to the subsequent exodus from Somalia is a preliminary project to trace the ways that environmental hazards intersect with human-made conflict to create crisis and human displacement. In both periods – the early 1990s and 2011 – drought intersected with violent conflict in Somalia leading to famine and mass migration out of the country. How so-called ‘natural’ disasters interact with human disasters like war is the theme of my most recent book, Dual Disasters, but this project attempts to examine the dual disasters of drought and war that occur both at once and then over time in a single place.