The human face of migration

Through her work at a United Nations think tank, alumna Michaella Vanore is helping to develop sound migration policy on the world stage.

By Emily Paton Davies

Publish Date: April 18, 2016

Michaella Vanore

Photo courtesy of Michaella Vanore.


Every time the phrase “European migration crisis” is bandied about in the media or by various political figures, Michaella Vanore (B.A. political science ’08) cringes.

“What we’re seeing isn’t a crisis of migration, it’s a crisis of policy,” said Vanore during a recent phone interview from her office at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. “We have fundamentally flawed policies and we ignored warning signs. I find it incredibly difficult to think a government could look at a civil war that has been going on for four years and not realize there would be refugees,” she continued, referring to the far-reaching effects of the ongoing Syrian civil war.

To say that Vanore knows whereof she speaks would be an understatement. The MSU Denver alumna and Colorado native works as a research fellow at the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance and United Nations University-MERIT (Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology), a joint research and training institute that serves as a think tank for the United Nations. Focusing on issues related to migration and development, Vanore has worked on projects commissioned by UNICEF, the European Commission and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to name just a handful of entities.

“A lot of what we do is produce reports that contribute to evidence-based policymaking,” she said. “We try to foster an informed debate about these larger issues by providing evidence.”

In addition to working at Maastricht University, Vanore holds two degrees from the institution: a master’s in public policy and human development, and a doctorate in public policy and policy analysis with a specialization in migration. She credits MSU Denver, however, with planting the seeds of her passion for policy.

“At Metro I tried a lot of things before I figured out what I wanted to do – I took classes in journalism, American studies, even Japanese,” said Vanore. “As with many things in life, it was kind of an accident that I found political science. I think I was drawn to the complexity of it. There are so many things we do that are governed by bigger forces.”

In many ways, MSU Denver runs in Vanore’s family: her mother, Ellen, is an alumna and her stepfather, Art Campa, is a former anthropology professor who remains deeply involved in the University’s federally funded College Assistance Migrant Program. In addition to these ties to the University, Vanore was drawn to its urban campus and its nontraditional student body. “I knew I didn’t want all my peers to be in the same age cohort as I was,” she said. “I believe that you learn a great deal from the people you’re learning with by having meaningful discussions. The diversity of Metro gave me the opportunity to meet people I wouldn’t necessarily interact with in other circumstances.”

This attraction to diversity serves Vanore well in her work as does her own status in the Netherlands. “I’m a completely unintegrated migrant – I can’t speak Dutch yet,” she said. “As a migrant and a migration scholar, I realize how emotionally isolating the process can be.”

Vanore also recognizes the intrinsically controversial nature of migration. “Many of the policies surrounding migration play on Europeans’ fears about their own sovereignty and identity,” she said. “Migration is an inherently confrontational phenomenon.

“But it’s about more than just statistics,” she continued. “Many people don’t see the human consequence. I’ve done a lot of interviews with rejected asylum seekers and you look at their faces and hear their stories and you don’t forget them.”

Vanore applauds the efforts of countries to admit asylum seekers but is skeptical about the sustainability and design of ad hoc policies relating to incorporating refugees.

“Offering asylum is the first need but then what happens? Refugees have to be equipped to set up their new lives in these countries,” she said. “You have to deal with the housing, education and health needs of these populations.”

The current crisis may spur the development of new migrant integration policies and perhaps even an examination of the European Union’s current structure, according to Vanore. But ultimately, she says, it all comes down to human compassion.

“With the state of the world as it is, you think, ‘my God, we’re such a mess,’” said Vanore. “But I believe that we’re all capable of great good and I think that should guide us. We are part of a bigger development industry, but we don’t have to be part of a negative industry.”