Karen Jacobsen

Karen JacobsenLeir Chair in Global Migration and Research Director
Leir Chair in Global Migration, Fletcher School of Law & 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:
  • Current Issues in Global Immigration Policy (DHP 238), 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, 2005.
  • Mazurana, Dyan, Karen Jacobsen and Lacey Gale. A View from Below: Conducting Research in Conflict Zones. Cambridge University Press, 2013.
  • Jacobsen, Karen. “Livelihoods and Forced Migration.” The Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies. Oxford University Press, 2014.
  • 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, 3 (2003).
  • Jacobsen, Karen. “Can refugees benefit the state? Refugee resources and African state building.” Journal of Modern African Studies 40, 4 (2002). 577-596.

News Items

Karen Jacobsen and Charles Simpsen publish about refugees and COVID-19 in The Conversation
May 5, 2020

Refugees tell stories of problems – and unity – in facing the coronavirus A group of refugees living on the pavement near the Cape Town Central Police Station on the…

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Karen Jacobsen weighs approches to handling migrant populations during coronavirus pandemic
April 14, 2020

On April 9, 2020 the Fletcher School highlighted Karen Jacobsen’s Forced Migration course in which she and her students examined different approaches to handling refugee and migrant worker populations during…

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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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Refugees in Towns: Experiences of Integration
experiences of integration
By Karen Jacobsen | November 2018

In this Forced Migration Review article, Refugees in Towns (RIT) project director Karen Jacobsen presents the project, why it is of importance in our current political climate, and what the…

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