Revisiting Accountability of Humanitarian Actors and Researchers

Thu Jun 13 2019 at 06:00 pm to 08:00 pm
Senate House Events, Malet Street, WC1E 7HU London, United Kingdom, London, United Kingdom

Senate House Events, Malet Street, WC1E 7HU London, United Kingdom, London, United Kingdom

Created By:
Refugee Law Initiative
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Seminar Series: Humanitarian Accountability in Displacement Contexts

A series of seminars examining humanitarian accountability in displacement contexts, hosted by the Refugee Law Initiative at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. The series provides a forum for discussion open to academics, practitioners and those with an interest in humanitarian and forced displacement issues.

Revisiting Accountability of Humanitarian Actors and Researchers: Lessons from field-research with refugee populations in East Africa


This presentation explores key considerations for conducting research involving refugee populations, with a focus on issues relating to accountability and research ethics. Drawing upon my extensive fieldwork experience in East Africa, I investigate the ways in which the phenomena of ‘over-researched’ and ‘under-researched’ refugee populations can impact the frustration and despair felt by refugee participants in research.

In some of my recent field sites, I have noticed increasing expressions of so-called ‘research fatigue’ from certain groups of refugees, which they attribute to the high volume of academics, aid organisations, students, and/or journalists that frequently request to conduct ‘research’ with them. However, due to the notable absence of any concrete benefits from participation, such ‘over-researched’ groups can become disillusioned about the purpose and impacts of ‘research’ - and do not hide their mistrust of researchers. On the other hand, refugee groups that are ‘under-researched’ have a sense that they remain under the radar and express frustration that their voices are not able to be heard in global arenas. Oftentimes the reason for this divide is that under-researched groups are de facto viewed as ‘policy-irreverent’ refugees although in many cases these refugees in fact have hidden, unaddressed challenges and vulnerabilities.

I argue that both of these phenomena are due to limited consideration of accountability and ethics with refugee populations by researchers and that if these issues are left unaddressed, the credibility of the research community will be significantly undermined in future. I conclude the presentation with some practical suggestions for researchers and humanitarian actors to improve accountability and ethical research practices when working with refugee populations.


Dr Naohiko Omata is a Senior Research Officer at the Refugee Studies Centre in the Department of International Development, University of Oxford. He has been leading the large-scale multi-country research programme entitled Refugee Economies which focuses on economic outcomes for refugees and host populations in East Africa. Naohiko received his PhD in Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, where he subsequently taught in Development Studies. He has also worked as a practitioner and consultant for UNDP, UNHCR, and international and local NGOs in Sub-Saharan African countries. He has published widely on refugee economic lives based on extensive research in Sub-Saharan Africa. His book, The Myth of Self-Reliance, was recently short-listed for the BSA/BBC Ethnography Award (2018).
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Created By:
Refugee Law Initiative
Spread the word