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Blog Post

Exploring ethics in repatriation research

29 April 2019

by Katy Brickley

My research explores how linguistic inequality occurs – and is challenged – within Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) repatriation programmes for asylum seekers and irregular migrants. I focus on applicants’ opportunities to make informed decisions about their return. 

For those who have not come across AVR before, the programmes are described by IOM (International Organization for Migration), the largest global provider of AVR, as: “Administrative, logistical, financial and reintegration support to rejected asylum seekers, victims of trafficking in human beings, stranded migrants, qualified nationals and other migrants unable or unwilling to remain in the host country who volunteer to return to their countries of origin.” IOM Glossary (IOM Glossary) 

In this LEDS session, I took the opportunity to discuss some ethical issues I’ve encountered while researching repatriation and brought along data to read and discuss with the group. The data excerpts were taken from semi-structured interviews with caseworkers from the IOM and Refugee Action, the two organisations administering AVR programmes in the UK at the time of my research. 

I was particularly interested in hearing others’ reactions to my data and to explore the ethical dimensions of sharing this data and my findings. After reading the transcriptions which centred around the theme of literacy and AVR, I asked the group:  

  • What ethical issues can you see in sharing data like this? 
  • How might it impact on relations with the institution in feeding back findings? 
  • What is the impact of not sharing this data? 

A lively discussion followed, covering a range of issues, including: how to deal with data/topics that may represent only a limited view of interviewees/the institution; the importance of acknowledging the difficulty of the interviewee’s duties; how to feedback findings to institutional representatives and elicit a response; the importance of framing the data; and the importance of stressing the ethnographic approach to the research, among other topics. We broadly agreed that although it is difficult to foresee all consequences of publishing data, it was not necessarily the case that sharing potentially controversial data would always reflect negatively on an institution. 

Perhaps the most practical aspect of the discussion for me personally was talk around the importance of building in early research agreements with the institution to lay out in detail what will happen with the data and the feedback process. It seems particularly prudent to include in this agreement how the researcher can feedback findings to the institution should the researcher’s contact there have moved on –important not only for validating the findings but also for maintaining opportunities for impact.  

The opportunity to talk through these issues in the informed and welcoming LEDS space was a very useful and reassuring process, with contributions from the group inspiring new approaches to sharing my research findings.  

If you’re interested in finding out more about my research, please visit my new blog.