As part of the 2018-2019 Oxford MSc Migration Studies cohort, many of us travelled to Geneva with the aim of meeting a variety of international organisations working in the field of migration. Prior to leaving we were unsure as to how fruitful the trip would be. Surely most of what we would hear in Geneva couldn’t be that different from the information we could read on their websites? Furthermore, would the organisations be honest and frank with us or simply pitch us the benefits of working there? Needless to say, we weren’t sure whether the air miles or the cost would be worthwhile.
Once there however, we realised that we hadn’t thought broadly enough about the benefits of visiting Geneva and the organisations in person. To start with, Geneva is host to a range of international organisations, NGOs, institutes, and networks working on migration. For anyone interested in working on the topic of migration within the framework of international organisations, it’s likely necessary to connect with Geneva at one point or another. Gauging whether the hiking available nearby is enough to make up for the high cost of living is a cost benefit analysis which is better made in person!
We also found it interesting to get an insight into the environments and the people behind these organisations. Over the course of a day and a half we met with representatives of the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), International Labour Organisation (ILO, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Rather than simply receiving an overview of these organisations’ work, we were given in-depth presentations ranging from the IOM’s work on migration in Venezuela, to fair recruitment initiatives implemented by the ILO, and migrant detention centres in conflict settings by the ICRC. All organisations generously sent senior representatives who answered critical questions on a range of issues, both related to migration and the internal workings of their organisations. Having critiqued the workings of international organisations in the field of migration throughout the Masters course thus far, we were pleasantly surprised to hear their staff expressing similar critiques of their work and the ways their organisations function.
Whilst enjoying intense life within the Oxford academic bubble, it is easy to forget that people that work for these international organisations often come from similar academic backgrounds, and are as aware, if not more, of the critical debates and contentious issues surrounding migration-related practices and policies as we are.
In our essays, dissertations and presentations we hold the privileged position of critiquing migration policies without necessarily having to face the existing infrastructural constraints or provide alternative solutions and new ideas. Upon reflection, meeting with these agencies was intellectually fruitful in that it has pushed us to engage more thoroughly with these constraints when being critical.
The timing of the trip was also ideal in that it provided motivation and a genuine look into what working for these types of organisations entails. For some, it reinforced the decision to not work within this context, but for others it confirmed existing aspirations to one day work for an international organisation, and opened up new perspectives and potential pathways that had not been previously considered. The trip also provided a space for our Masters cohort to interact and grow closer. Given the unique experiences and array of individual talent and insights among our cohort, it was a great opportunity to get to know one another outside of the classroom setting.
In our spare time, some of us visited the UN Headquarters and the UNHCR, whilst others walked around Geneva’s historic city centre or hiked in the surrounding landscapes, discovering what life in Geneva could be like. On our final night we ate cheese fondue on the famous Jet d’Eau, a major highlight for us all! All in all, the trip was productive, enjoyable and thought provoking.
For more details on the MSc in Migration Studies have a look at our course video.