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Doing a Qualitative Study on a Vulnerable Group in a Sensitive Context: Challenges of Accessing Casamance Refugees in the Gambia

By: Charles Chijioke Ebere Published: 2018 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases in Sociology
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The research at the center of this case explored some of the major geopolitical repercussions of the Casamance conflict (a separatist rebellion that has been ongoing since 1982 in the south of Senegal, resulting in an influx of refugees from Casamance region of Senegal into The Gambia), including the management of refugees’ vulnerable conditions, and the sociopolitical consequences in the relations between Senegal and The Gambia. This case explains the challenges involved in researching the Casamance refugee population in The Gambia using the qualitative methods of observations, semi-structured interview, and informal conversations. More specifically, it explores the rigors of getting past gatekeepers to access; discusses the political sensitivity shrouding the project such as self-censorship on the part of gatekeepers, fear of exposure and mistrust on the part of participants, and the consequent challenges to field researchers; and demonstrates the capability of researchers to sustain the ethical zeal of their work in such an environment and make informed decisions about how to do research. Most significant is that research investigations of vulnerable people in a sensitive context present researchers with unique opportunities, one of which is the ability to understand the role of insider support to an outsider researcher in accessing gatekeepers and research participants, as well as consent and confidentiality dilemmas such as participants’ giving informed consent while declaring a desire to disclose their identity.

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