Essex strengthens international work on refugee protection

  • Date

    Thu 23 Feb 23

Professor Geoff Gilbert

A leading member of Essex Law School and Human Rights Centre who has dedicated his academic life to supporting refugees around the world has been named the very first Sérgio Vieira de Mello Chair in the Northern Hemisphere in recognition of his teaching and research work.

As a result of the long-standing Memorandum of Understanding between the University of Essex and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and of the work of Professor Geoff Gilbert as the Global Academic Interdisciplinary Network Co-Chair, the University of Essex has joined a distinguished group of academic institutions around the world that are committed to promoting the teaching of and research on forced displacement as well as solidarity with forcibly displaced persons.

The De Mello Chairs framework aims to institutionalize partnerships between UNHCR and universities towards strengthening whole-of-university approaches to academic engagement on refugee protection and solutions.

It was in his Chairmanship term of the Global Academic Interdisciplinary Network that Professor Gilbert promoted the expansion of the framework to the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Mexico and Ethiopia.

The framework pays homage to Sérgio Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian national who worked most of his life in UNHCR, protecting refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons and stateless people.

Sérgio served as Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq but was tragically killed in the Baghdad bombing of the UN headquarters in 2003.

Professor Gilbert said: “It is an honour to have been accorded this Chair given that Sérgio devoted his life to protecting refugees.”

This nomination not only recognizes the collaboration between the University and UNHCR over the past 30 years, including through a Memorandum of Understanding first signed in 2014 and renewed in 2020, but also renews the School of Law’s commitment through the work of Professor Gilbert to invest in and facilitate North-South academic cooperation in the coming years.

“This University does so much to support those forcibly displaced and it has been the perfect environment in which for me to work.”

The first De Mello Chair was nominated in Brazil in the wake of Sérgio Vieira de Mello’s death.

This year, the framework celebrates its 20th anniversary and has been expanded to 46 universities in Brazil, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Mexico and Ethiopia, in addition to the UK. Professor Gilbert’s role with the Global Academic Interdisciplinary Network is an example of the work the University of Essex is doing with marginalized communities as part of its role as a University of Sanctuary.

University of Sanctuary status recognizes the work being done to make Essex a safe and welcoming environment for all, and forms part of the City of Sanctuary Initiative which is supporting refugees across the UK.

Essex Vice Chancellor, Professor Anthony Forster said: “Professor Gilbert is an inspirational member of our academic community whose commitment to supporting refugees and those forced to flee their homes is internationally recognised.

"His work in education and research are excellent examples of how Essex academics seek to make a difference.

“As a University of Sanctuary, we are proud to be working with UNHCR and other global organizations to ensure everyone’s human rights are protected.

“I want to congratulate Professor Gilbert on the grant of this Chair and take great pride in knowing Essex is the first university in this region of the world to have a member of staff recognised in this way.”