Migration Expert Ben-Arieh Joins Global Research Team Focused on Refugee Crisis

Northwestern is the only US institution in a multinational, transdisciplinary study of refugees, human rights, and EU values

April 16, 2018

The challenges facing the Europe Union are many, says Northwestern political scientist Galya Ben-Arieh, founding director of Northwestern’s Center for Forced Migration Studies (CFMS).

“There’s Brexit, an ongoing financial crisis, the rise of populism, tensions in the transatlantic relationship, and issues such as climate change,” she says. “The recent influx of more than 1 million refugees and migrants didn’t cause the EU’s existential crisis, but these ‘outsiders’ have tested the values of a united continent.”

Although a shared understanding of standards and norms are enshrined in the European Charter for Human Rights — it's even a condition of EU membership — the migrant crisis that gripped the continent in the summer of 2015 tried the Union’s resolve.

Now, Ben-Arieh is co-principal investigator, and the only American, of a new study that will provide a comprehensive definition of the core values in Europe. It also will explore the evolution of societal norms and posit what shared understanding is critical to overcoming the current discord.

The three-year, $3 million project funded by the European Union’s 2020 research and innovations programme includes an interdisciplinary group of researchers from Germany, Greece, Hungary, Sweden, Italy, France, Poland, Netherlands, and the United States. Ben-Arieh attended the project’s launch on April 6 at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany. The Horizon-2020 study Norms and Values in the European Migration and Refugee Crisis (NoVaMigra) will be carried out by philosophers, legal scholars, political scientists, and anthropologists.

“While there’s a strong social science component and we will be collecting data and engaging in social scientific analysis, what makes our project unique is that we are also engaged in legal and philosophical normative reconstruction and theory,” says Ben-Arieh. “Most social scientists offer a descriptive account, but stop short of exploring values and norms. Our interdisciplinary group will identify values that must coexist between nations in order to move from crisis to stability.”

Over 36 months, the research team will also organize international conferences, workshops, and dialogues; publicly release research reports; and create a platform to support doctoral student research on refugee law, global migration, integration, and social cohesion.

“The premise of our research is that the EU’s ability to overcome its crisis will depend on more than its provision of material benefits to states and individuals,” says Ben-Arieh. “Equally important will be policies that must credibly claim the ability to establish conditions for legitimacy and justice within and beyond Europe.”

Ben-Arieh and NoVaMigra project coordinator Andreas Niederberger met in 2007 while he was a visiting professor of German, political science, and philosophy at Northwestern. The two have been collaborating ever since and Ben-Arieh spent six months in 2016 as a senior fellow at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen, where Niederberger is a faculty member.

The NoVaMigra project will take place in five stages, and although Ben-Arieh will be contributing at many points throughout, she will co-lead the final stage, which focuses on synthesizing the research findings.

“Our broader goal is to provide policymakers with a rich empirical and ethical basis on which to ground their policymaking and programmatic activities,” says Ben-Arieh. “There is a narrative in Europe that refugees are undermining social values, but the situation is definitely more complex than that. This research project will address what it means to be a member of the EU and help lay a foundation for solutions to the migrant crisis.”

The NoVaMigra project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 770330.