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UNHCR Project on Rethinking Refugee Communities


Stanford students Devorah West and Jessica Miranda talk to UNHCR camp refugees in western Ethiopia.
Photo credit: 
Beth Duff-Brown


  • Visiting Professor, Law

The deputy United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees approached Tino Cuéllar, director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, to form a collaboration between Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) and the UNHCR that would explore ideas to better protect and support more than 42 million refugees, internally displaced and stateless people worldwide.

These early discussions led to a multidisciplinary partnership involving CISAC, students from across the Stanford campus and at the Hassno-Platner Institute of Design and the Stanford Geospatial Center. Professors, professionals and NGOs such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Asylum Access, as well as architects with Ennead Architects have all been volunteering their time and expertise.

The project took on even greater meaning when students from Cuéllar’s Law School class, “Rethinking Refugee Communities,” traversed the globe to test out their technology and design theories in Ethiopia and Rwanda. You can read a series of stories about the trip to Ethiopia by CISAC's Beth Duff-Brown.

Representing teams from the class co-taught by Leslie Witt of the Silicon Valley global design firm, IDEO, some 25 students spent the 2013 winter quarter consulting and brainstorming about ways to advance camp communications; food security and economic self-sufficiency; local community relations; and the complicated process of setting up camps for thousands of exhausted and heartsick refugees.

This video gives an overview of the trip to Ethiopia:


In winter quarter 2014, CISAC Visiting Professor Jim Hathaway (University of Michigan Law School), Stanford Humanities Center Associate Director Roland Hsu, and Diana Essex of Asylum Access convened an inter-disciplinary group of Stanford scholars to explore issues of refugee protection and rights. The group met with a variety of government, international organization and NGO representatives all working on refugee issues. At the conclusion of the quarter, Hathaway drafted an overview, which is attached at the bottom of this page.

Watch this presentation of the trip to Ethiopia.

And check out Ennead Lab's blog on the refugee project:


Research Materials