Karen Jacobsen

Karen JacobsenLeir Chair in Global Migration, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
Research Director, Feinstein International Center

Working with Feinstein Since: 2000
Based in: Medford, MA

Karen Jacobsen directs Feinstein’s Refugees and Forced Migration Research Program. At Fletcher and Friedman, she teaches courses on forced migration and field research methods, and advises Ph.D. and master’s degree students.

Karen is a recognized expert in the field of forced migration, and she consults and writes widely on this topic. From 2013–2014 she headed the Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS) in Geneva, on leave of absence from Tufts. From 2000–2005, she directed the Alchemy Project, which explored the use of microfinance as a way to support people in refugee camps and other displacement settings.

Karen received her B.A. from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, her M.A. from Northeastern University, and her PhD in Political Science from MIT.

A South African by birth, Karen travels there frequently. She lives in Brookline with her son and dogs.

Research Interests:
  • Urban displacement
  • Refugee and IDP rights and livelihoods
  • Migration and refugee policy
Regional Focus:
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Middle East
Courses Taught:
  • Forced Migration (DHP D239), Spring Term
  • Introduction to Research Methods (DHP D235), Spring Term
Most Cited Books and Articles:
  • Karen Jacobsen. 2005. The Economic Life of Refugees. Kumarian Press.
  • Dyan Mazurana, Karen Jacobsen and Lacey Gale, eds. 2013. A View from Below: Conducting Research in Conflict Zones. Cambridge University Press.
  • Karen Jacobsen. 2014. “Livelihoods and Forced Migration.” The Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies. Oxford University Press.
  • Karen Jacobsen and Loren B. Landau. 2003.  “The Dual Imperative in Refugee Research: Some Methodological and Ethical Considerations in Social Science Research on Forced Migration.” Disasters 27(3).
  • Karen Jacobsen. 2002. “Can refugees benefit the state? Refugee resources and African state building.” Journal of Modern African Studies 40 (4): 577-596.

Feinstein Publications

Building Livelihood Opportunities for Refugee Populations: Lessons from Past Practice
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By Karen Jacobsen, Susan Fratzke | September 2016

This report outlines the types of livelihood efforts that aid agencies have undertaken in countries of first asylum and explores the challenges they face in realizing the full promise of these approaches. The authors offer recommendations to improve effectiveness.

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Forced Displacement, Go Figure! Shaking the Box of Profiling IDP Situations
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This book is a joint effort from JIPS and the Feinstein International Center that calls for an update to the existing international guidance for profiling.

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Cash Transfer Programming for Syrian Refugees Lessons Learned on Vulnerability, Targeting, and Protection from the Danish Refugee Council's E-Voucher Intervention in Southern Turkey
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By Paula Armstrong, Karen Jacobsen | February 2016

This report provides lessons for the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), other humanitarian organizations, and funders striving to optimize cash transfer programs (CTP) in humanitarian contexts. Through an examination of the…

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Guidance For Profiling Urban Displacement Situations: Challenges And Solutions
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By Karen Jacobsen, Ivan Cardona, JIPS | June 2014

Over the past two years, the Feinstein International Center has supported the Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS) to develop a Guidance for Profiling Urban Displacement Situations. The Guidance highlights the…

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Disaster Risk Reduction and Livelihoods
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According to the Hyogo Framework for Action, disasters affect over 200 million people annually, causing significant loss of lives, forced migration, and disruption of livelihoods and institutions. The trend over…

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Ransom, Collaborators, Corruption Sinai Trafficking and Transnational Networks
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Each month thousands of men, women, and children flee Eritrea as a result of grave violations of human rights committed by the Eritrean government. Traveling via Sudan and Egypt, 36,000…

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Refugee Livelihoods in Urban Areas: Case Study Israel
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Refugees in urban areas face a specific set of livelihoods problems, and in recent years many aid agencies have begun to try to address these problems by supporting refugees through…

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Refugee Livelihoods in Urban Areas: Case Study Ecuador
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Refugees in urban areas face a specific set of livelihoods problems, and in recent years many aid agencies have begun to try to address these problems by supporting refugees through…

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Refugee Livelihoods in Urban Areas: Case Study Egypt
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Refugees in urban areas face a specific set of livelihoods problems, and in recent years many aid agencies have begun to try to address these problems by supporting refugees through…

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Refugee Livelihoods in Urban Areas: Identifying Program Opportunities Recommendations for programming and advocacy
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Refugees in urban areas face a specific set of livelihoods problems, and in recent years many aid agencies have begun to try to address these problems by supporting refugees through…

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Developing a Profiling Methodology for Displaced People in Urban Areas: South Africa Case Study
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This is one of three case studies that were conducted to test the methodology for profiling displaced persons in urban areas. The full report on the methodology is available here….

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Developing a Profiling Methodology for Displaced People in Urban Areas: Yemen Case Study
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This is one of three case studies that were conducted to test the methodology for profiling displaced persons in urban areas. The full report on the methodology is available here….

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Developing a Profiling Methodology for Displaced People in Urban Areas: Thailand Case Study
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This is one of three case studies that were conducted to test the methodology for profiling displaced persons in urban areas. The full report on the methodology is available here….

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Developing a Profiling Methodology for Displaced People in Urban Areas
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In 2010-11 we partnered with the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration to develop a profiling methodology for urban migrants and refugees. The purpose of the methodology…

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Examining Linkages between Disaster Risk Reduction and Livelihoods Literature Review
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In the disaster context emphasis has been generally placed on the initial humanitarian and emergency response. However, recently there has been an increasing recognition of the importance and value of…

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African Migration to Israel Debt, Employment and Remittances
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This report details the migration experience and livelihood choices of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers and migrants in Tel Aviv. The research is based on a scoping study conducted by…

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Increasing the Financial Resilience of Disaster-affected Populations
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Increasing the Financial Resilience of Disaster-affected Populations is a desk review paper commissioned and supported by the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, USAID. One of the most significant problems facing…

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Livelihoods, Migration and Conflict Discussion of Findings from Two Studies in West and North Darfur, 2006 - 2007
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This briefing paper discusses findings from a study conducted in Darfur from 2006-8 that explored the changing role of migration and remittances in the livelihoods of conflict-affected people. We conducted…

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Internal Displacement to Urban Areas: Colombia Case Case 3: Santa Marta, Colombia
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By Karen Jacobsen, Kimberly Howe | September 2008

For more than 40 years, Colombians have been subject to chronic violence perpetrated by left-wing guerillas, paramilitaries, government forces, and drug cartels. In the past 20 years, an estimated four…

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Internal Displacement to Urban Areas: Côte d’Ivoire Case Case 2: Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire
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By Karen Jacobsen | September 2008

After a series of political crises, Côte d’Ivoire’s armed conflict erupted in 2002, leading to the division of the country into government and rebel-controlled areas. Both sides committed grave human…

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Internal Displacement to Urban Areas: Sudan Case Case 1: Khartoum, Sudan
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By Karen Jacobsen | September 2008

Sudan’s North-South civil war and the conflict in Darfur generated one of the largest internally displaced populations in the world. A large proportion of these IDPs is found in and…

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The Alchemy Project: Final Report, 2001-2004
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By Karen Jacobsen | November 2004

The Alchemy Project began in 2001 as a pilot program to explore whether income generating interventions do support the livelihoods of forcibly displaced people. Our long-term goals were to work…

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Feinstein Research Projects

Refugees in Towns
By Karen Jacobsen | March 2017

This project collects and commissions case studies of urban settings (towns, cities or sub-areas of cities) in which refugees or internally displaced people have been living for more than two years.

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Profiling for Displacement Situations
By Karen Jacobsen | September 2013

Our research on and methodology for profiling will help aid agencies better understand the livelihood issues confronting displaced people and non-displaced locals in urban settings.

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Refugee Livelihoods in Urban Areas: Identifying Program Opportunities
By Karen Jacobsen | September 2013

For refugees in urban areas, there is little evidence about which humanitarian programs work, what livelihoods initiatives refugees undertake themselves, and where opportunities for programming interventions lie. Our research seeks to address this knowledge gap.

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Advancing Financial Resilience
By Karen Jacobsen, Kim Wilson | July 2010

The Financial Resilience program seeks to promote understanding of financial resilience – the ability of a household or community to prevent, sustain, or recover from financial shocks – in marginalized populations in high-risk/high-stress environments.

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Developing a Conflict-Sensitive Microfinance Model for Darfur
By Karen Jacobsen | June 2010

Tufts/FIC commissioned a microfinance assessment undertaken as part of the joint UNDP-IOM-Tufts project earlier this year. That document, “Championing the Coping Economy: An Assessment of the Microfinance Market in Darfur: Gaps and Opportunities,” reviews the financial sector of Sudan and Darfur, and assesses the potential for microfinance as a tool for economic recovery in Darfur.

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News Items

Fletcher students organize event in Maine as part of Refugees in American Towns Project
April 10, 2017

As part of Karen Jacobsen’s Refugees in Towns project, three Fletcher students worked with Augusta, Maine Mayor David Rollins to bring together 50 people of different backgrounds to consider what…

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Sasha Chanoff acknowledges Karen Jacobsen’s support in launching RefugePoint
April 7, 2017

On April 6, 2017 Sasha Chanoff (MAHA alum ’04) talked about refugee resettlement and his experience at the Fletcher School during an intimate book talk at Tufts. His recent book,…

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Tufts Now highlights Karen Jacobsen and Dan Maxwell research on cash and food aid for refugees
March 2, 2017

Karen Jacobsen and Dan Maxwell recently shared their expertise on cash transfers and food aid with Tufts Now. The article begins: As the ongoing refugee and migrant crisis continues to…

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Karen Jacobsen discusses changing policies toward immigration and refugees as part of a Tufts panel
February 16, 2017

On February 16, 2017, Karen Jacobsen joined a panel of Tufts faculty with expertise in areas related to President Trump’s executive order on immigration. The panel, “The Changing Political Climate:…

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Karen Jacobsen describes the refugee vetting process in the Washington Examiner
January 30, 2017

On January 30, 2017 Karen Jacobsen described what refugees go through to resettle in the U.S. in  an op-ed in the Washington Examiner. She writes: How difficult is it to…

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Feinstein faculty humanitarian course offerings Spring 2017 at Tufts
January 17, 2017

Feinstein faculty are teaching a variety of courses on humanitarian issues during the upcoming Spring 2017 Semester. We encourage students to check them out: Karen Jacobsen: Forced Migration (DHP D239)…

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Karen Jacobsen and Dyan Mazurana anticipate outcomes for refugees if the U.S. decreases foreign aid funding
December 11, 2016

On December 9, 2016 Karen Jacobsen and Dyan Mazurana published an opinion piece in Tufts Now. They write: War, persecution and natural disasters are wreaking havoc on communities across the…

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Tufts hosts faculty panels on foreign policy in new U.S. administration
December 1, 2016

In the past weeks, Tufts hosted two faculty panels to discuss what foreign policy may look like in the new U.S. administration. Faculty offered a wide range of expertise on subjects…

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Top academics and influencers ask world leaders to ensure refugees an education
September 16, 2016

Leading academics and influencers from across the world released an open letter through the Huffington Post asking world leaders to do more to ensure refugees an education. Among the 20 signatories is…

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Karen Jacobsen highlighted in Refugees Deeply article
September 6, 2016

On September 2, the independent digital media project Refugees Deeply posted an article titled “Six Vital Voices on the Economics of Migration” as part of their “Experts to Watch” series. Included…

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JIPS hosts launch event for DART and new publication
September 2, 2016

On August 31, JIPS hosted a launch event to share two new projects. Presented first was the second version of the Dynamic Analysis and Reporting Tool (DART). DART is an online easy-to-use system built…

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Dan Maxwell assumes role of acting director
August 1, 2016

The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy’s Dean Mozaffarian announced the appointment of Daniel Maxwell, Professor of Nutrition, as the acting director of the Feinstein International Center. Over his…

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Karen Jacobsen shares experience with communities hosting refugees
June 1, 2016

Karen Jacobsen worked with a range of government representatives, civil society stakeholders, and development and humanitarian partners at the Center for Mediterranean Integration‘s Peer-To-Peer Learning Workshop for Communities Hosting Refugees…

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Karen Jacobsen and Paula Armstrong share insights from recent report with the Cash Learning Partnership community
April 5, 2016

Karen Jacobsen and Paula Armstrong discuss three main lessons from their report, “Cash Transfer Programming for Syrian Refugees” on the Cash Learning Partnership website. The three lessons they review are:…

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Karen Jacobsen discusses refugees in urban settings at the Friedman Seminar
March 23, 2016

The humanitarian community uses approaches and tools to support refugees that were designed to be delivered in camp and rural settings. However, today more than half of the world’s refugees…

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Karen Jacobsen presents at the Myron Weiner Series on International Migration
March 15, 2016

Feinstein’s Acting Director Karen Jacobsen  held a guest lecture for students and the public at MIT on Tuesday, March 15. Her presentation was titled “Understanding the Impact of War and…

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Karen Jacobsen chaired a Migration Policy Forum panel on March 4th
March 2, 2016

The Migration Policy Forum Presents: Perilous Journeys: Human and Policy Challenges of Transit Migration through Mexico Friday, March 4th from 12:30 to 2:30 at the Fletcher School (Cabot 206) Chairs:…

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Feinstein International Center faculty course offerings – Spring 2016
January 20, 2016

The spring semester has begun at The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and Feinstein International Center Faculty…

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Karen Jacobsen comments on the refugee crisis in international media
November 19, 2015

In light of recent events in Paris and the international response to the refugee crisis, FIC’s Acting Director Karen Jacobsen has commented on the experiences, needs, and challenges of refugees…

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NPR interviews Karen Jacobsen on migrant crises
September 10, 2015

On September 10, 2015, Karen Jacobsen spoke to the NPR program Here and Now about the perils of migration out of Africa. Jacobsen discussed the experiences of migrants and refugees from the…

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Karen Jacobsen discusses refugee crisis on CCTV
August 17, 2015

Karen Jacobsen, the Acting Director of the Feinstein International Center, was featured on CCTV to discuss the plight of refugees and the refugee crisis in Europe. You can watch the…

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Faculty host workshop on ethics and practicalities of field work
May 14, 2015

On May 12, 2015, Professors Karen Jacobsen (Acting Director, Feinstein International Center), Dyan Mazurana (Research Director on Gender, Youth and Community), and Kim Wilson (Visiting Fellow) co-hosted a day-long workshop…

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FIC faculty and researchers participate in ‘Lean Research’ initiative
April 16, 2015

On April 15, 2015, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, MIT D-Lab, and Feinstein International Center co-hosted Lean Lab, a day-long convening to reflect on the Lean Research initiative…

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Fletcher-ICRC Joint Lab Holds Workshop on Sahel
March 12, 2015

The Fletcher School and the International Committee of the Red Cross held a one-day workshop on March 12, 2015 as part of their planned three-year ‘Joint Laboratory’. The first year…

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