Karen Jacobsen

Karen JacobsenLeir Chair in Global Migration and Research Director
Leir Chair in Global Migration, The Fletcher School at Tufts University
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:
  • Climate and Migration (DHP D241), Fall Term
  • Overview of Survey Methods (DHP D243M), Fall Term
  • Forced Migration (DHP D239), Spring Term
  • Introduction to Research Methods (DHP D235), Spring Term
Most Cited Books and Articles:
  • Jacobsen, Karen. “The Economic Life of Refugees. Kumarian Press, 19, no. 2 (2005): 258-260. doi:https://doi.org/10.1093/jrs/fel003 
  • Dyan Mazurana, Karen Jacobsen and Lacey Gale. “A View from Below: Conducting Research in Conflict Zones.” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 254-274.
  • Jacobsen, Karen. “Livelihoods and Forced Migration.” In The Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, ed. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Gil Loescher, Katy Long, and Nando Sigona (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 100-111. 
  • Jacobsen, Karen and Loren B. Landau. “The Dual Imperative in Refugee Research: Some Methodological and Ethical Considerations in Social Science Research on Forced Migration.” Disasters, 27, no. 3 (2003): 185-206. doi: 10.1111/1467-7717.00228.
  • Jacobsen, Karen. “Can refugees benefit the state? Refugee resources and African state building.” Journal of Modern African Studies 40, no. 4 (2002). 577-596.

News Items

Karen Jacobsen and colleagues discuss how the war in Sudan is contributing to the climate crisis
May 30, 2023

Karen Jacobsen teamed up with colleagues, Justin B. Hollander (professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts) and Christopher Schwalm and Alexandra Naegele (scientists at the Woodwell Climate…

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Karen Jacobsen and Dan Maxwell publish in Great Decisions 2023
November 28, 2022

The Foreign Policy Association’s Great Decisions is America’s largest discussion program on world affairs. The program model involves reading the Great Decisions Briefing Book, watching the DVD and meeting in…

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Feinstein Research Projects

Refugees in Towns

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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UNHCR’s Confidence Building Measures for Sahrawi Refugees

The project has three components, each designed to give a different perspective on Sahrawi refugees.

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Feinstein Publications

The Cowardly Man Raises his Children: Refugee Gang Violence and Masculine Norms in Cairo
By Paul Miranda, Karen Jacobsen | September 2020

This report analyzes gang violence affecting African refugee communities in Cairo, Egypt to promote understanding of why violence occurs and local grassroots efforts to prevent violence. It makes recommendations for how humanitarian organizations can support community efforts.

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Flights Above the Fray: The experiences and uncertain future of UNHCR’s family visit program for Sahrawi refugees
family visit program

Between 2004 and 2014, UNHCR’s Confidence Building Measures (CBM) program helped more than 20,000 refugees in the Tindouf desert camps of Algeria to visit their families. This report gives a human perspective of the experiences of Sahrawi refugees and their families.

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