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ASU social work professor to study often-deadly migration between Morocco and Spain as Fulbright Senior Scholar

David Androff receives rare opportunity to study 2 countries’ approaches to unlocking the potential of migration


View of a large, old structure on a hilltop in Granada, Spain.

View of a hilltop in Granada, Spain. Photo courtesy Unsplash

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May 29, 2024

The portion of the Mediterranean Sea that separates Morocco from Spain is one of the deadliest migration routes in the world. Each year, hundreds of thousands of migrants attempt the perilous crossing, often using unseaworthy boats and rafts. Thousands have died in the open sea, more each year than the number who perish crossing from Mexico to the United States.

Portrait of David Androff.
David Androff

As a new Fulbright Senior Scholar, Arizona State University social work Professor David Androff will spend 10 months researching social services for migrants in Morocco and Spain. (Androff’s appointment to two countries, which begins in September, is rare; most of the hundreds of U.S. State Department-funded Fulbrights named annually are assigned to only one.)

According to Androff, a full professor in the School of Social Work at ASU, this is part of the world’s rapidly rising refugee and migration crisis. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently estimated that one in every 74 people has been forced to leave their home due to war or persecution, and millions more are fleeing dire economic and environmental conditions. In response, nations have imposed severe immigration restrictions.

But as the Associated Press reported April 24, “Human rights organizations have for years warned that tougher policies and police crackdowns are not deterring migration but driving desperate people to attempt life-threatening journeys across treacherous waters. Thousands have paid with their lives.”

Androff added that these restrictions also prevent migrants from being able to achieve their potential.

A ‘global flashpoint’ for migration

During his appointment, Androff will be able to directly observe each country’s approach to migration.

“Morocco and Spain are connected by history, culture and are a global flashpoint for migration. Both countries are laboratories of integration,” he said. “I will study what social workers are doing on both sides of the border for migrants.”

Each year, the Fulbright Scholars program enables about 800 American academics to study abroad and about 900 foreign academics to do so in the U.S.

Androff’s unique joint Fulbright award enables two separate universities to partner in his research. In Morocco, he will be hosted by the Political Studies and Public Law Research Laboratory at Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University in Fez. Androff said Morocco is both a transit and destination country for African migrants, building upon a culture of hospitality to develop the most advanced immigration policy and integration programs in North Africa.

The research laboratory’s director and professor of international relations, Said Saddiki, wrote in his invitation letter that this award will “foster mutual exchanges between our universities, akin to your transborder program with the University of Sonora in Mexico,” and “opens the door for us to establish transborder programs with your host institution in Spain.”

In Spain, Androff will be hosted by the Institute of Migration Research at the University of Granada. He said Spain is more inclusive than many other European Union (EU) nations, with an intercultural approach to immigration policy and services that is in tension with its role as an EU border state.

“Spain’s heritage of diversity and closeness to Morocco make it an important stage in migration from Africa,” he said.

Professor Nieves Ortega Pérez, academic secretary of the institute, wrote in her welcome letter that Androff’s transborder work between Mexico and the United States makes him “exceptionally well-qualified to conduct this research.”

Research to build on earlier studies

Androff’s Fulbright research will build upon his previous work, including his 2022 book "Refugee Solutions in the Age of Global Crisis," published by Oxford University Press, and his study on human rights-based social work practice with migrants and asylum-seekers, which received the inaugural Best Paper Award by the Journal of Human Rights and Social Work.

Androff said he hopes this research will “advance knowledge in the fields of migration and refugees, and identify models that can improve policy and practice.”

Androff said he also will be paying special attention to the similarities between what is happening in Morocco and Spain and what is happening in Mexico and the U.S., and he sees the potential for a comparative study of the two regions.

Aerial view of a city in Morocco showing the tops of several closely situated buildings.
A tannery in Morocco. Photo courtesy Unsplash

Androff said migration can present both opportunities as well as challenges.

“Social services can assist in unlocking the benefits of migration,” he said. “Supportive programs and policies provided by professional social workers, volunteers and migrant-led organizations can help migrants to navigate new social environments and contribute their unique economic and cultural strengths.”

School of Social Work Director and Distinguished Professor of Social Policy Elizabeth Lightfoot said Androff’s rare two-nation assignment reflects his proposal’s importance.

“Receiving a Fulbright in itself is a major feat, but receiving one of the few Fulbright awards that crosses borders is tremendous,” said Lightfoot, a Fulbright Scholar herself, who visited two countries in separate years. “However, I am not surprised Professor Androff won this award, as he has proposed a fantastic cross-border project that will benefit both countries’ social service provision, as well as our global understanding of migration.”

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