This article interrogates the assumptions and moral values underlying social research ethics frameworks and practices applicable to migration studies. Based on a review of forced migration literature and on empirical observations I identify three tiers of research ethics that generally guide ethical conduct in this field: procedural, relational and reciprocal ethics. I suggest that these tiers are traditionally conceptualized as a hierarchy in which certain ethical demands are considered morally superior to others. Looking at each of the three tiers the article shows that procedural and relational ethics demands are often based on unclear moral values and problematic notions of migrants’ vulnerability. To address this shortcoming, I draw on deontological ethics and on Levinas’s notion of unconditional responsibility to argue that our duty as researchers is based on our particular relationship with our research subjects rather than on their status as migrants. Moving away from a hierarchical understanding of research ethics I then propose an integrated ethics framework that allows researchers to conceptualize and address the various ethical demands in an interconnected and holistic way. This framework presents an original contribution to research ethics discourses and practice in migration studies and other fields of social inquiry with a political and moral ambition such as human rights, social work and childhood studies.