Africa is the continent with the most refugees and at the same time the one with the least refugee research. While about one-third of all refugees worldwide are in Africa (UNHCR Global Appeal 2015), the continent often remains on the margins of an entire field of research that focuses on Europe in particular in this regard.

The Africa Working Group brings together researchers from all disciplines interested in refugee situations on the continent in which Africans play central roles as refugees, hosts, helpers, experts, and administrators. In doing so, the members of WG Afrika focus on the one hand on the phenomenon of forced migration and humanitarian refugee protection itself, but on the other hand also on the broader social contexts and transformations that accompany it. We are thus interested in both the more conventional questions of Forced Migration Studies – such as causes of forced migration, destinations of forced migration, strategies of refugees, protection mechanisms, etc. – and the socio-cultural interactions that are shaped by them. Many societies in Africa have long been shaped by various forms of forced migration. Most African states have been alternately (or simultaneously) both ‘countries of origin’ and ‘host countries’ for refugees in recent decades. It is not without reason that Africa has already been called, among other things, the ‘continent of the refugee camp in the 21st century’ (Agier 2011, 3) par excellence. Today, some African societies are even described as so-called ‘refugee societies’.

The working group will discuss different topics related to diplacement and forced migration. Methodologically, special attention will be paid to the following aspects:

Historicity | Contrary to the tendency to celebrate refugee movements as something new, we do not understand forced migration as a new phenomenon. It has shaped the long history of the continent in pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial societies. Therefore, it is important to always situate refugee movements historically.

Comparability | The focus on Africa is by no means meant to be an occasion for essentialization. Instead, the focus is on empirical studies and case studies that members of the WG compare and contrast in their research. The working group places a special emphasis on comparing different African regions as well as between African and non-African cases. Africa functions here as a lens for particular research questions rather than as a closed cultural unit.

Coloniality | Research on forced migration and refugees in Africa is always informed by post-colonial power structures and hierarchies. This means that we have to constantly think about these long-term effects of economic, cultural, political, and social exploitation through the European colonization of the continent in our work and analysis. This concerns not only critical reflections on positionality, whiteness, and structural racism, but also on the representation of refugees themselves, their experiences, and their role not only as sources but as co-producers of knowledge.

Categories | A major challenge of Forced Migration Studies is to always critically reflect on a historically grown and mostly normative conceptual apparatus – such as the categories refugees, internally displaced persons, economic migrants, diaspora, etc. This is all the more important in the context of African societies, which have historically been viewed and described by Europeans through racist and colonial categories and taxonomies.

The Africa Working Group functions on the one hand as a thematic discussion forum within the German Network for Forced Migration Studies, and on the other hand as a contact point to publicize the research results of individual members. In addition, the WG maintains its own blog series on the broad topic of ‘Forced migration and Displacement in Africa’ on the Forced Migration Studies Blog.

For questions about membership, interviews, collaborations, blog posts, and more, please contact the WG Africa coordinators.


Dr. Hanno Brankamp

Dr. Jochen Lingelbach 

Agathe Menetrier