Refugee Livelihood Lab Principles

Refugee Livelihood Lab

Our Principles: How Do We Practice?

In times of challenge and upheaval, like those we are facing now with a global pandemic dramatically highlighting the inequities which target Indigenous, Black, migrant and so many other communities and the earth, we need principles to guide us through the chaos. 

These 8 principles guide our actions and ways of being together in Beyond Borders. They are designed to help us be accountable to our values,  to inspire and challenge us. The principles are based on global movements, consultation, experience, and evidence about what is effective in shifting systemic patterns of inequity. We share this to let you know how we hope to work together. You may agree or disagree, and we are happy to help engage your team or organization in these important conversations. Reach out to let us know what you think.


Nothing About Us, Without Us: We centre the leadership of people most impacted by issues of forced migration and displacement. Beyond tokenization or patronizing relations – we believe in the ability of racialized migrants to act, resist and create practices that can transform the current challenges

Build A Critical Analysis: We believe we all need to sense and understand how specific attitudes, policies and practices harm or support various communities. Yet there is no one, simple answer. Critical reflection provides a lens to examine various perspectives on tensions, contradictions, and power relations. We aim to expand our frames of reference and understand the implications for our frame so we can take responsibility for the ways we think, how we live and the impacts of this in the world.

Embody Solidarity: We work to build relationships of trust where it can become clear that we have a community of shared interests, values, challenges and goals around which we unite. This experience of solidarity helps us feel that we lead together. Beyond looking good, or making a performance of it – we show up and are useful because it’s our visceral response to what’s happening to others.

Choose Liberating Stories & Challenge Limiting Ones: Beyond stories of migrants as threats or burdens, we support the creation of freeing narratives that reflect the rich experiences of migrant communities, our dreams and hopes. Instead of silencing others, or remaining silent in collusion, we realize that the system is always present in our conversation, and therefore we make space to talk and “unpack” the strong tensions that limiting stories create in a group setting.

To See Power, Look in a Mirror: We believe that to see how power works in a system, we need to look at our OWN role in current and desired system dynamics. Beyond acknowledging privileges, we encourage critical reflection on how we might re-design our participation in systems to shift these dynamics towards justice, dignity and thriving for all.

Build Ladders and Bridges of Power: We build bridging relationships within migrant communities, to create strong ties between groups (ex. between migrants from different countries, religions, gender identities, language groups, generations, etc.). This creates a profound basis for building ladders, that is, making relationships up and down power hierarchies in order to close the gap with decision-makers. Beyond needing to choose only one set of relationships, all are valued.

Remember, We Are Here Because You Were There: Beyond an ahistorical, depoliticized approach, this principle helps us look at Canada’s role in displacement and forced migration internally and internationally through support for corporate resource extraction, active participation in war, and other foreign policy.  We explore the basis of solidarity and allyship between migrant communities and Indigenous peoples because of shared experiences of settler/colonization.

Practice Healing Centered Engagement: 

We recognize forced migration, displacement, racism, exclusion are forms of violence that have traumatic impacts on people. Trauma can destroy a sense of safety,  trust, agency, control and purpose. So we support spaces where people can reestablish these qualities. Beyond the disconnect of healing and justice, body and mind, we lead and heal together.

Special thanks to Jorge Salazar, Refugee Livelihood Lab Faculty for his articulation of many of these principles. Also thanks to Paola Ardiles, Ayaan Ismail and Kiri Bird, RLL staff and contributors for initial conversations on these core ideas. Written by Nada El Masry and Camille Dumond, RLL Co-Managers.