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Migration Scholar Focuses on Strengthening Refugee Service

Faculty Profile: Susan Martin

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March 31, 2009 – With two new books scheduled for release this year, international migration professor Susan Martin continues her quest to help displaced victims of war, repression and natural disasters.

Her works Women, Migration and Conflict (Springer Books, 2009) and The Migration-Displacement Nexus (Berghahn Books, 2009), come from her years of experience in the field as a policy analyst and migration scholar.

About 13 million people live as refugees. Many have been displaced from their homes and forced to seek safety in other countries, including the United States.

“We are a country of immigrants – it has been a major cause of population and cultural growth throughout U.S. history,” she says.

Women Seeking Refuge

Whether in the United States or in neighboring countries abroad, some migration issues are universal. The professor has observed the impact of displacement on refugees, particularly on women. She says reproductive health services, programs to reduce gender-based violence against women and greater employment opportunities are the most critical needs for female refugees.

Before joining the Georgetown faculty in 1998, Martin brought these issues to the attention of the United Nations, governments and nongovernmental organizations. She developed guidelines for the protection of refugee women that were adopted by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees in the early 1990s.

Conditions have been improving ever since, she says, but a lot more needs to be done.

“I wanted to help give refugee women the opportunity to advance toward greater participation in decision-making about the policies and programs affecting their lives,” says Martin, who is also executive director of Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of International Migration (ISIM).

Professionalizing the Field of Humanitarian Aid

Martin’s work to improve national and global policymaking and bring attention to complex immigration issues were largely borne from a need to help others.

Based on that need and her experience in the field, Martin now focuses on ways to better educate and train the next generation of humanitarian workers.

“A lot of very well-meaning volunteers got into the refugee field, but none of them were trained,” Martin says.

Martin founded ISIM with Lindsey Lowell and Andrew Schoenholtz in 1998 and through the institute soon established the nation’s first and only certificate program in refugee and humanitarian emergencies.

“Susan is an educator with a very particular purpose – to improve professionalism in the field of international migration,” says Schoenholtz, deputy director of ISIM and visiting professor at Georgetown’s Law Center. 

The institute graduated 11 students in its first certificate class in May 2001; in 2008 alone more than 70 students graduated from the program -- representing masters programs in the School of Foreign Service, the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, the government department and the Law Center.

In addition to her work at Georgetown, Martin organized and launched the first-ever Jesuit University Humanitarian Action Network conference last year. Students from 20 Jesuit universities from across the nation learned about the tools necessary to organize disaster relief efforts.

Martin delights in teaching the undergraduate students.

“I find that a lot of what I am teaching them – immigration events that I have lived through – is now part of their history,” says Martin. “Re-seeing these events through their eyes has opened up so many new things for me in terms of my own understanding of these historical moments.”

 -- Katie Martha

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