Alexander Betts

BA MSc MPhil DPhil

Professor of Forced Migration and International Affairs
William Golding Senior Fellow in Politics at Brasenose College
Associate Head of the Social Science Division, Department of International Development
Brasenose College

Alexander Betts is Professor of Forced Migration and International Affairs, William Golding Senior Fellow in Politics at Brasenose College, and Associate Head of the Social Science Division at the University of Oxford. He served as Director of the Refugee Studies Centre between 2014 and 2017. His research focuses on the politics and economics of refugee assistance, with a focus on Africa. His most recent book, Refuge: Transforming a Broken Refugee System (Penguin Allen Lane and Oxford University Press, 2017, co-authored with Paul Collier) was named by The Economist as one of the best books of 2017. His other books include Survival Migration: Failed Governance and the Crisis of Displacement (Cornell University Press, 2013), Mobilising the Diaspora: How Refugees Challenge Authoritarianism (Cambridge University Press, 2016), Refugee Economies: Forced Displacement and Development (Oxford University Press, 2016), and Global Migration Governance (Oxford University Press, 2011). In 2016, he was named by Foreign Policy as one of the leading 100 global thinkers, by Thinkers50 on its radar list of emerging business influencers, and as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. His TED talks have been viewed over 3 million time, and he has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, and The Guardian. He has previously worked for UNHCR, worked as a consultant for a range of international organisations and NGOs, and has served as a Councillor on the World Refugee Council, as well as migration advisory groups for DFID and IOM. He is Principal Investigator on the IKEA Foundation-funded Refugee Economies Programme, which follows the economic lives of 15,000 refugees and host community members over time. He received his MPhil and DPhil from the University of Oxford.

Alexander Betts



Introduction to Refugee Studies and Forced Migration (MSc in Forced Migration);

International Relations and Forced Migration (MSc in Forced Migration);

The Politics and Practice of Humanitarianism (MPP);

Contemporary Debates in IR Theory (MPhil in IR);

International Relations of the Developing World (MPhil in IR).


International Relations (Core Paper);

International Relations of the Cold War (Optional Paper);

International Relations of the Inter-War Period (Optional Paper).


Refugee Studies Centre Summer School;

International Institute of Humanitarian Law Course on International Refugee Law;

Said Business School Executive Education.

Research summary

My main area of research interest is the international politics of refugee protection and assistance, with a secondary interest in humanitarianism and migration more broadly. Most of my fieldwork takes place in Sub-Saharan Africa. In this empirical work, I attempt to contribute to conceptual debates in International Relations relating to international institutions and transnational politics.

My initial research focused on international cooperation in the global refugee regime, attempting to identity the conditions under which North-South cooperation takes place to overcome longstanding refugee situations. This work resulted in the publication of Protection by Persuasion, which highlights the historically central role of issue-linkage in motivating donor state contributions to refugee burden-sharing. Building on this work, I received a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation grant for a project on the global governance of migration, which explored the institutional, political, and normative dimensions of migration governance across a range of areas of migration. As well as resulting in the edited volume, Global Migration Governance, the project enabled me to continue my work on the refugee regime and led to the publication of Refugees in International Relations, which explores the contribution International Relations theory can offer the study of refugees, and vice versa.

Supported by this project, and based on extensive fieldwork in Africa, Survival Migration explores the changing nature of cross-border displacement to examine how international institutions adapt at the national level to emerging challenges. Looking at displacement from some of the worlds most fragile states - Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and Zimbabwe - it argues that the conditions under which the refugee regime adapts to meet the changing needs of displaced populations is shaped by national and local politics. Some of the conceptual ideas developed in the book are explored in a related edited volume, Implementation and World Politics, which examines how international norms translate from the global to the national and local levels.

I am currently principal investigator on two main research projects, both of which relate to the changing nature of transnational governance. First, the Humanitarian Innovation Project explores the role of the private sector and innovation in humanitarian governance. It looks at how private actors, technology, and innovation are reshaping humanitarianism at global, national and local levels - notably through extensive qualitative and quantitative research on refugees in Uganda. The project is funded with a $1.1 million grant from Stephanie and Hunter Hunt, and details are available on the Humanitarian Innovation Project website. Second, the Nation Outside the State: The Political Mobilisation of the African Diaspora project explores the process through which African diaspora engage in transnational political mobilisation, by looking at Rwandan and Zimbabwean transnational communities. The work provides a theoretical recasting of how we think about the role of power within transnational networks. The project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the OUP John Fell Fund with a total of around $150,000.


Refugees; humanitarianism; migration; the United Nations; Africa.