24 Aug 2018

An unwavering voice for refugee rights: The Chr. Michelsen Prize winner 2018

Maja Janmyr works in one of the most contentious research fields; migration and refugee law. -Researchers should challenge the social conventions and categorizations that policy makers base their decisions on, she says.

At an age of 34, Maja Janmyr is already an experienced professor at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights (UiO) and one of the country’s most prominent voices on migration and refugee law. In March 2018, she was awarded the Chr. Michelsen Prize for her article ‘No Country of Asylum: ‘Legitimizing’ Lebanon’s Rejection of the 1951 Refugee Convention, published in the International Journal of Refugee Law.

The Chr. Michelsen Prize is awarded to young researchers who have made an outstanding contribution to development research. Among the criteria are high academic quality and relevance. When the board at CMI first started to award the prize 4 years ago, the main goal was to encourage and stimulate research and debate within the field of development research. Janmyr is in no doubt that the prize has helped her in gaining more attention to her research.

-Researchers are immensely interested in their field of work, but oftentimes they are quite alone in their devotion. The Chr. Michelsen Prize has contributed to visibility around my research. I have been able to share and discuss my research and findings with a larger audience, and that is the real beauty of visibility around your research; the opportunity to discuss and develop your research and research questions in a collective, she says.

Not that she necessarily needs a prize to get any fame. Janmyr, an eloquent and clear speaker, is very well equipped to draw attention to her research on her own. Working on one of the most politicized and polarized research fields in our time, she feels the heat. Her unrelenting focus on refugee rights has its costs. She has received threatening emails, and has had people showing up for her lectures more for the sake of arguing than listening and discussing. Yet, she insists that she has not become more careful; that she does not let the fear of uncomfortable situations hold her back. But she has started preparing for any reactions that might come more carefully.

-Every time I get contacted by a journalist or feel like writing an op-ed, I need to consider: Do I have the time and energy to follow up on all the questions and the negative comments? Simply the fact that you work on asylum and refugee issues is a trigger for some people.

Research and its relationship to societal relevance is one of the driving factors for Janmyr. Working on migration and refugee rights, she wants her research to be relevant to the people who are affected by the questions she asks. Among these people are policy makers who have a very real effect on the lives of hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers.

-Researchers need to have a healthy skepticism to established truths that are at the heart of policy making. We need to ask questions about the categories they use, such as what really constitutes a refugee. So many categories that shape policies are simply the result of social conventions and political decisions, she says.