Refugee Law Initiative project wins Times Higher Education Award

Friday 1 December 2017

‘Pushing the boundaries’, an ambitious research initiative led by Dr David James Cantor at the Refugee Law Initiative (RLI), part of the University of London’s School of Advanced Study, has won the Research Project of the Year: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences award in the Times Higher Education Awards 2017. The winners were announced at a gala ceremony in London on 30 November.

The purpose of the three-year initiative (full title ‘Pushing the Boundaries: New dynamics of forced migration and transnational responses in Latin America’), which was supported by a Future Research Leader grant from the Economic and Social Research Council, was to analyse how Latin American states use transnational structures and interventions to address new security and justice challenges resulting from forced migration flows. 

It involved an international group of researchers, and produced the first serious study of the dynamics of forced migration provoked not by war or government persecution but by the activities of organised criminal groups. In addition, ‘Pushing the boundaries’ spearheaded research on this ‘new’ cause of forced migration and shifted the traditional notions concerning legal protection of refugees in Latin America.

Through an historical study the project:

  • developed a simpler and more elegant interpretation of the Latin American expanded refugee definition in the 1984 Cartagena Declaration
  • delineated a progressive framework for protecting asylum-seekers under the Inter-American Human Rights System
  • shed new light on transnational connections between asylum practices in Europe and Latin America 

Collectively, these findings presented a novel model of Latin American cooperation in refugee protection as a viable alternative to regional models applied in Europe and elsewhere.  

My colleagues and I are delighted by the recognition that this award gives to research in the field of refugees and internally displaced persons. It also benefits this overlooked region of Latin America by further publicising the need for both understanding and action on the intractable forced displacement caused by organised crime in these countries.
- Dr David James Cantor, RLI director.

The research has also influenced United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) protection policy relating to people fleeing criminal violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America. Between October 2015 and May 2016, Dr Cantor fed into the development of UNHCR refugee protection policy relating to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. This not only guides UNHCR action but also that of the region’s governments.

In addition to the rallying call it presented to researchers and policymakers worldwide, the ‘Pushing the boundaries’ project resulted in Dr Cantor taking up a one-year part-time secondment as the principal adviser to UNHCR’s Americas Bureau. He is now drafting strategy for the region, as well as other policy instruments to guide UNHCR and governments in addressing protection challenges for refugees, asylum-seekers and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). 

This is important recognition for an excellent and innovative project tackling an issue which is devastating for those affected, often in acutely threatening situations. The School is proud of it and of the work done by David Cantor and his colleagues. We are especially proud that it helps those in predicaments of dislocation and displacement. We add our warmest congratulations.
- Professor Rick Rylance, the School of Advanced Study’s dean and University of London pro vice-chancellor (research).

Now in their 13th year the Times Higher Education Awards – the ‘Oscars of higher education’ – are a highlight of the academic calendar and a celebration of the best in UK higher education. Each year, they attract hundreds of entries in 19 categories covering the full range of university activity.

John Gill, THE’s editor, said: 
This year has been a tough one for universities, which have been buffeted not only by the rapidly changing policy environment but also by an unprecedented succession of headlines questioning what they do and how they do it.

The winners of this year’s Times Higher Education Awards offer the perfect response, illustrating the extraordinary talent, creativity and sheer hard work that is to be found across our university sector. The reality is that universities are teeming with brilliant individuals and teams who add far more to the health, wealth and happiness of the country than is often recognised.