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Field Research Programme

The Society’s Field Research Programme, Migrants on the margins, is a three year project involving researchers from UK universities and international research partners. It focuses on the vulnerability and opportunities of migrants in some of the world’s most pressured cities, including Colombo (Sri Lanka), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Harare (Zimbabwe) and Hargeisa (Somaliland).

Migrants on the margins was selected by the Society’s Council, after wide consultation with Fellows, members and leading geographical field researchers, and an open call for proposals. Read the media release.

Global context

By 2050, it is predicted that 70% of people will live in cities, with almost all urban population growth in the next 30 years taking place in cities in Asia and Africa. The World Health Organisation estimates that the urban population of these counties will increase from 2.5 billion in 2009 to almost 5.2 billion by 2050.

In addition, recent research, including that done for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ Foresight project, Migration and global environmental change, has shown that people moving away from humanitarian and other crises, only move short distances and often into marginal urban areas where it is then all too easy to become trapped.

These movements are some of the most important and least studied migration patterns worldwide. It is not clear what impacts migrants have on the places they move too, nor is it clear how cities should respond. Very little is understood about the life chances of the migrants themselves and the issue will only worsen as populations grow and the impact of climate change is increasingly felt.

The Field Research Programme

Migrants on the margins addresses a number of key, interlinked geographical themes – migration, environmental change and urban governance – and the project team will carry out in-depth field research in four cities in partnership with international researchers.

As well as seeking to improve lives in the areas of study, the project also aims to build regional research capacity and networks of expertise in Asia and Africa. Research findings will be published in leading academic journals and shared with wider audiences through a documentary film, an exhibition, lectures and educational resources for schools.

Project team

The interdisciplinary project team is coordinated by Professor Michael Collyer from the University of Sussex. The team’s nine UK researchers have been drawn from Durham University, the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) and the University of Sussex. They are joined by four PhD students, postdoctoral researchers and experts from collaborating institutions in each country.

The international research institutions involved in the project are the Centre for Migration Research and Development in Sri Lanka, the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, the Development Governance Institute in Zimbabwe, and the Organisation for Conflict and Violence Prevention in Somaliland.

Project updates

You can keep up to date with Migrants on the margins and find out more about the different elements of the project as it progresses by following the project blog.


The Society’s Field Research Programme is just one of many ways in which the Society advances geographical knowledge, including grant-giving to support a wide range of research projects and scientific expeditions, and scholarly publishing.

The Society also supports learning in the field through work with schools, universities, and public audiences.


In addition to support from the Society, this project receives funding under the ESRC/DFID Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research for the project ‘’Supporting the social mobility of trapped populations in very poor urban areas’ (grant number ES/N01474X/1) and under the ESRC-AHRC Forced Displacement Call for the project ’The Unknown City: the (in)visibility of urban displacement’ (grant number ES/P005128/1).



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