The Refugee Law Initiative conducts research in a range of thematic areas.

Asylum and Migration

This thematic area explores the position of refugees within broader migratory movements. Research on this topic includes: the protection of ‘boat refugees’ and other migrants at sea, as an example of the challenges posed by mixed migration flows; and the intersection and interaction between migration policy and refugee law, looking principally at recent trends in Latin American countries. A number of seminars and presentations at events have also looked into issues of trafficking and smuggling of migrants and their implications for international protection.

Criminality, Refugees and Migrants

This thematic area addresses both the empirical role of organised crime in provoking forcible displacement in ‘peacetime’ as well as the legal implications for host States of suspected serious criminality by individual asylum-seekers and migrants. It includes research on: the recent ‘new wave’ of forced displacement in Mesoamerica generated by the activities of gangs and cartels; exclusion from refugee status under Article 1F of the Refugee Convention, particularly in relation to terrorism; and policy challenges presented by migrants suspected of serious criminality but who cannot be removed. These topics have been taken up also in a range of seminar and workshop presentations.

Forced Migration in War

This thematic area encompasses empirical research on refugees, IDPs and forced migration in war situations, as well as legal, policy and institutional protection responses. It includes research on: the dynamics of forced displacement in and from the Colombian conflict, including the situation of refugee populations in neighbouring countries; the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross in assisting and protecting refugees and displaced persons; and the potential of international humanitarian law for protecting refugees. These are complemented by events such as the 2014 international webinars on armed conflict and asylum law and a 2015 Chatham House roundtable.

Governance of Internal Displacement

This thematic area interrogates the governance frameworks relating to internal displacement and the protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs). It includes research on: national IDP laws and policies; the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and their relationship to international law; the development of an international law for IDP protection; humanitarian responses to the problem of internal displacement in contexts of war and generalised violence. Further development of events in this thematic research area is imminent.

Natural Disasters, Environment and Forced Migration

This newer thematic area assesses the prospects for legal and policy responses to migration caused by environmental factors, revolving thus far around international migration due to natural disasters. It is based around a recent research project commissioned by the Nansen Initiative and the Puebla Process (Regional Migration Conference) into the immigration/protection practices of States in the Americas. Approaches to environmental migration have also been discussed by an expert workshop that took place in 2013.

Refugee Law: Past, Present and Future

This particularly well-developed thematic area addresses a range of topical issues in the field of refugee law. It includes research on: the development of refugee law and its current and future challenges, focusing especially on the refugee definition and refugee rights; procedural aspects of refugee status determination (RSD) and access to asylum; the crossover and interaction between refugee law and other branches of international law, including humanitarian law and human rights law; and comparative refugee law at the national level. Refugee law issues have also been addressed by the annual RLI International Refugee Law seminar series, the 2012-13 seminar series on Refugee Protection and Psychology, a 2012-13 comparative series of international webinars, and a wide range of other RLI workshops and roundtables.

Regional Approaches to Refugee Protection

This thematic area engages with approaches to refugee protection undertaken at the regional level. It currently includes research on: the use of transnational structures and interventions by Latin American States to address new challenges arising from forced migration; regional approaches to asylum in Europe, particularly the second phase of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS); and the role of norms and norm entrepreneurs in regional asylum frameworks. This thematic area was the subject of the 4th International Refugee Law seminar series, which studied examples from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.

Solutions to Displacement

This thematic area focuses on how displacement through time plays out and possible solutions to both internal displacement and refugee-hood. It draws on research encompassing: strategies to ensure security and sustainability in the return of IDPs during ongoing conflict; the international legal framework concerning the return and repatriation of displaced persons; the implications for international law of providing reparations to refugees; and empirical and theoretical understandings of the concept of reparation as seen from across the border. This body of research is complemented by events such as the seminar series on new challenges in refugee integration, run jointly with the British Refugee Council in 2011-12.