Professor David Cantor, PhD, is founder and Director of the Refugee Law Initiative (RLI) at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, with 25 years’ experience of research, advice and advocacy on refugee and IDP law and policy.

Research leadership and facilitation

Since founding the RLI in 2011, David has developed it into a internationally-recognised centre of expertise and global leadership on refugee and IDP law and policy involving 500+ people, including core staff, tutors, fellows, affiliates, students, clinical legal practitioners and pro bono lawyers. David has led the work of the centre in building its vibrant research affiliate networks and working groups and regional research networks in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. At the RLI, he has developed a range of external partnerships, secured over £9 million of competitive research funding, and organised over 150 RLI conferences, workshops, trainings and seminars.

David is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Brill’s established International Refugee Law book series and, since 2020, Editor-in-Chief of the OUP Refugee Survey Quarterly journal. Other research outlets that he has created in the refugee field include the RLI Working Paper Series and the Researching Internal Displacement platform, as well as the RLI Declarations on International Protection. David also set up and runs the Internal Displacement Research Programme, currently the only academic centre globally promoting and conducting research exclusively on internal displacement.

In 2014, David initiated the RLI’s successful MA in Refugee Protection & Forced Migration Studies by distance learning, currently the world’s largest postgraduate programme in the refugee field with students from over 70 countries. This sits alongside his public education Coursera courses on Refugees in the 21st Century and on Conflict, Internal Displacement and Protection that have reached tens of thousands of learners worldwide. He has taught refugee, human rights and humanitarian law at postgraduate level for over 15 years at various international universities.

In 2020, David led the creation of a major intercollegiate Refugee Law Clinic at the RLI which trains and deploys students from 10 colleges of the University of London and professional lawyers from two commercial firms to work on the cases of unrepresented ‘appeals-rights exhausted’ asylum seekers in London and beyond. The high success rates achieved in decisions on these complex fresh claims have won the clinic recognition and awards nationally, including the Attorney General and LawWorks Award for its pro bono work.

Research and investigation

Since entering academia in 2010, David has published ten books and journal special issues, over 45 journal articles and book chapters, and numerous reports (see below). He has personally led and collaborated in a range of major research projects, which have attracted funding from academic funders including the ESRC, AHRC, ESPRC, GCRF and Leverhulme Trust, as well as charitable trusts and foundations. In 2017-18, his work on crime-driven displacement in Latin America won the prestigious Times Higher Education Research Project of the Year. In 2024, he joined the Lancet Commission on Health, Conflict, and Forced Displacement as the Commissioner leading its research on legal frameworks.

David’s research and publications focus on five broad topics: (1) the legal protection of refugees within international law, particularly the relationship of refugee law with human rights law, the laws of war and international criminal law; (2) comparative approaches to refugee protection in national law and policy, especially in the Americas, Africa and the UK; (3) law, policy and practice at the international and national levels relating to the challenges and opportunities presented by internal displacement; (4) the empirical dynamics of displacement in situations of armed conflict and violence linked to organised criminal groups, particularly in the Andes and Central America, and its implications for humanitarian and development practice; (5) the empirical dynamics of mobility and displacement in the context of disasters and climate change, especially in the Americas, and their implications for humanitarian and development response.

David has a long-standing research interest in the Americas, particularly Latin America, where he has carried out fieldwork since 1998 in Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Mexico. As an anthropologist, he worked previously in Papua New Guinea, and remains a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Since 2018, David has been Chair of the University of London Research Ethics Committee.

David has a track record of legal and policy work with and for refugees and displaced populations. During the 2000s, he practised refugee and human rights law before the UK government, tribunals and courts for the Refugee Legal Centre, a London-based public law centre, working directly on over 500 refugee cases. In 2016-17, David was seconded as Principal Advisor to UNHCR in its Americas Bureau, where his research formed the basis for strategic input into legal, policy and operational issues relating to refugee and displaced populations in North, Central and South America.

Through the RLI, David has advised, trained and undertaken research for over fifteen (mainly global south) governments, as well as various civil society organisations. In the UK, he has regularly fed into Parliamentary legislative processes on asylum since 2003. Drawing on his research, he has drafted regional frameworks for inter-governmental processes – such as that on Protection of Persons Crossing Borders in Disasters for Regional Conference on Migration governments – and global policy adopted by international organisations such as UNHCR, as well as helping to shape the drafting of national laws and policies relating to displaced persons in countries in the Americas and Europe.

In 2023, David established a consultancy wing at the RLI to channel the regular requests by governments, civil society and the media for research input on complex matters concerning refugee and IDP protection. Through the RLI, David has personally developed research collaborations and consultancies with practitioners in local civil society and global organisations, the latter including the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), UN Development Programme, International Organization for Migration, International Committee of the Red Cross, UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Internal Displacement, Platform on Disaster Displacement and World Bank.

Academic publications

Books and Journal Special Issues (all)

  • 2025 Oxford Handbook on Internal Displacement, lead editor with N. Baal, M. Bradley, W. Ekezie and U. Pape (OUP, under contract - forthcoming)

  • 2023 Health and Internal Displacement Special Series, Journal of Migration and Health, co-edited with B. Roberts and J. Swartz [OA]

  • 2021 Contemporary Perspectives on Internal Displacement in Africa Special Collection, 40(2) Refugee Survey Quarterly, co-edited with N. Maple

  • 2020 Improving Attention to Internal Displacement Globally Special Issue, 39(4) Refugee Survey Quarterly, co-edited with guest editors G. Zeender and M. Yarnell [OA]

  • 2018 Returns of Internally Displaced Persons during Armed Conflict: International Law and its Application in Colombia (Martinus Nijhoff)

  • 2017 The New Refugees: Organised Crime and Displacement in Latin America, lead editor with N. Rodríguez (ILAS Book Series; Brookings Institution Press); updated English version of Los Nuevos Desplazados [OA]

  • 2017 “Undesirable and Unreturnable” Aliens in Asylum and Immigration Law Special Issue, 36(1) Refugee Survey Quarterly, co-edited with J. van Wijk, S. Singer and M. Bolhuis [OA]

  • 2017 Undesirable and Unreturnable? Prosecuting Non-removable Aliens suspected of Serious Crimes Symposium, 15(1) Journal of International Criminal Justice, co-edited with J. van Wijk

  • 2016 Human Rights and the Refugee Definition: Comparative Legal Practice and Theory, co-edited with B. Burson (Martinus Nijhoff)

  • 2015 Los Nuevos Desplazados: Crimen y Desplazamiento en América Latina, lead editor with N. Rodríguez (ILAS Book Series; Brookings Institution Press); updated English version in 2017 (above) [OA]

  • 2015 A Liberal Tide? Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy in Latin America, lead editor with F. Freier and J.P. Gauci (ILAS Book Series, University of London) [OA]

  • 2014 Refuge from Inhumanity? Refugee Protection and the Laws of War, lead editor with J.F. Durieux (Nijhoff)

Articles and Chapters (selected sample)

  • 2024 ‘International Protection, Disasters and Climate Change’, International Journal of Refugee Law, first author with B. Burson, B. Aycock, N. Feith Tan, T. Anastasiou, E. Arnold-Fernandez, C. Field, C. Hansen-Lohrey, W. Kälin, G. Kane, S. Miron, M. Rao, B. Sánchez Mojica, C. Scissa, S. Weerasinghe and T. Wood

  • 2024 ‘How Does International Law Regulate “Relocation” in Displacement Contexts?’, 15 Journal of International Humanitarian Legal Studies 23

  • 2024 ‘Divergent Dynamics: Disasters and Conflict as “Drivers” of Internal Displacement’, 48(1) Disasters e12589

  • 2023 ‘In Pursuit of Coherence: International Rules on Internal Displacement across Conflict and Disaster Settings’, 47 World Bank KNOMAD Working Paper, first author with B. Sánchez-Mojica [OA]

  • 2022 ‘Externalisation, Access to Territorial Asylum, and International Law’, 34 International Journal of Refugee Law 120, first author with N. Feith Tan, M. Gkliati, E. Mavropoulou, K. Allinson, S. Chakrabarty, M. Grundler, E. McDonnell, L. Hillary, R. Moodley, S. Phillips, A. Pijnenburg, A.-N. Reyhani, S. Soares and N. Yacoub [OA]

  • 2022 ‘Health Overseas Development Aid for Internally Displaced Persons’, Journal of Migration and Health 100090, co-author with B. Roberts, W. Ekezie, K. Jobanputra, J. Smith, S. Ellithy, N. Singh and P. Patel [OA]

  • 2022 ‘Disaster Relief and Human Mobility: Promoting Policy Coherence’, 69 Forced Migration Review 28 [OA]

  • 2021 ‘Understanding the Health Needs of Internally Displaced Persons: A Scoping Review’, Journal of Migration and Health 100071, first author with J. Swartz, B. Roberts, A. Abbara, A. Ager, Z.A. Bhutta, K. Blanchet, D. Madoro Bunte, J.C. Chukwuorji, N. Daoud, W. Ekezie, C. Jimenez-Damary, K. Jobanputra, N. Makhashvili, D. Rayes, M.H. Restrepo-Espinosa, A.J. Rodriguez-Morales, B. Salami and J. Smith [OA]

  • 2021 ‘Environment, Mobility and International Law: A New Approach in the Americas’, 21(2) Chicago Journal of International Law 263 [OA]

  • 2020 ‘Internal Displacement, Internal Migration and Refugee Flows: Connecting the Dots’, 39(4) Refugee Survey Quarterly 647, first author with J. Apollo Ochieng [OA]

  • 2019 ‘Reconsidering African Refugee Law’, 31(2-3) International Journal of Refugee Law 182, first author with F. Chikhwana [OA]

  • 2018 ‘Fairness, Failure, and Future in the Refugee Regime’, 30(4) International Journal of Refugee Law 627

  • 2018 ‘“The IDP in International Law”? Developments, Debates, Prospects’, 30(2) International Journal of Refugee Law 191.

  • 2018 ‘Cooperation on Refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean: The “Cartagena Process” and South-South Approaches’, in E. Fiddian-Qasmiyah and P. Daley (eds.), Handbook of South-South Relations (Routledge)

  • 2017 ‘The End of Refugee Law?’, 9(2) Journal of Human Rights Practice 203

  • 2016 ‘Defining Refugees: Persecution, Surrogacy and the Human Rights Paradigm’, in B. Burson and D.J. Cantor (eds.), Human Rights and the Refugee Definition: Comparative Legal Practice and Theory

  • 2015 ‘Bucking the Trend? Liberalism and Illiberalism in Latin American Refugee Law and Policy’, in D.J. Cantor, F. Freier and J.P. Gauci (eds.), A Liberal Tide? Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy in Latin America (ILAS Book Series, University of London) [OA]

  • 2015 ‘Reframing Relationships: Revisiting the Procedural Standards for Refugee Status Determination in light of Recent Human Rights Treaty Body Jurisprudence’ 34(1) Special Issue Refugee Survey Quarterly 79

  • 2014 ‘The New Wave: Forced Displacement Caused by Organised Crime in Central America and Mexico’ 33(3) Refugee Survey Quarterly 34 [OA]

  • 2014 ‘Laws of Unintended Consequence: Nationality, Allegiance and the Removal of Refugees during Wartime’, in D.J. Cantor and J.F. Durieux (eds.), Refuge from Inhumanity? Refugee Protection and the Laws of War (Martinus Nijhoff)

  • 2014 ‘A Simple Solution to War Refugees? The Latin American Expanded Refugee Definition and its relationship to IHL’, in D.J. Cantor and J.F. Durieux (eds.), Refuge from Inhumanity? Refugee Protection and the Laws of War (Martinus Nijhoff) first author with D. Trimiño

  • 2013 ‘The Inter-American Human Rights System: A New Model for Integrating Refugee and Complementary Protection’ 17 International Journal of Human Rights 689, first author with S. Barichello

  • 2013 ‘European Influences on Refugee Law in Latin America: Accelerated Procedures in Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela’, in M. Fullerton, H. Lambert and J. McAdam (eds.) The Global Reach of European Refugee Law (CUP)

  • 2012 ‘Does IHL Prohibit the Displacement of Civilians during War?’ 24 International Journal of Refugee Law 840

  • 2011 ‘Restitution, Compensation, Satisfaction: Transnational Reparations and Colombia's Victims' Law’, 215 UNHCR New Issues in Refugee Research 1 [OA]

  • 2011 ‘Colombian Guerrilla Groups, Forced Displacement and Return’ 37 Forced Migration Review 20 [OA]