Feeling unheard or unable to express one’s voice is pervasive in the struggles of marginalized people. To not have a voice is to lose control of the script and the language that reshapes the world, defines us and establishes which of us do (and do not) count. Clearly, numerous refugees themselves believe that having their voices heard is an indispensable basic need, but although refugee voices are often given lip service, they are rarely taken seriously.

Refugees are the community with the most intimate and sustained contact with how systems of protection actually function. Taken seriously, the inclusion of refugee voices can be a revelatory experience with transformative effects on the practice of refugee protection. The author focuses on ways in which refugees’ articulation of their experiences, knowledge, perspectives and insights can be concretely translated into policy affecting them directly (most obviously through the policies of the UN Refugee Agency and other refugee-protection agencies, and these policies’ implementation). His arguments are, first, that incorporating refugee voices is ethically required; second, that besides being the right thing to do, it is also practically desirable; third, that taking refugee voices seriously can dramatically improve the effectiveness of policy implementation; and fourth, that refugee voices can greatly enhance the intelligence of policy and institutional design.

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Research papers are policy documents commissioned by the World Refugee Council from world-renowned experts to help inform the work of the Council and its final recommendations. The measures and concepts in these documents do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Refugee Council.
  • Will Jones is a senior lecturer in international relations at the School of Politics and Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London. His research interests include refugee policy, the politics of African diasporas and state building. He is the co-founder of Refugees’ Say, a charity that works for the pragmatic reform and improvement of refugee resettlement policy.