Research Case Study

Impact: Securing a better future for refugees

Our experts are helping the United Nations find solutions to the global refugee crisis.

  • Tagged under

    Global perspectives and challenges
    Human Rights

  • Lead Academic

    Professor Geoff Gilbert

One in every 113 people globally is now either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee. In 2015, 24 people were forced to flee their homes every minute, and there are now more than 65 million displaced people in the world.

These statistics reveal a human tragedy on an unimaginable scale and two of our researchers are tackling it head on.


A global community, a global responsibility

“Today we are seeing third generation refugees born in camps, borders are being closed, and refugees are dying trying to make dangerous journeys to a better life. This isn’t acceptable. We need solutions that empower refugees, solutions that allow them to lead a self-determined life during their displacement and which can be implemented from the outset alongside protection.”

This is what drives Professor Geoff Gilbert, an expert in international refugee law who has worked with the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, for decades.

Working with Essex graduate, Anna Magdalena Rüsch, their research has shown how the rule of law might be that solution.

How can the rule of law solve this global crisis?

Rule of law is a concept at the very heart of the United Nation’s mission. In its broadest terms it is about ensuring all individuals, organisations, including the UN, public and private bodies, and states themselves are governed by and accountable to fair and equitable laws that respect and promote rights.

With respect to refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people, it offers an opportunity to take a community-based approach, from the ground up, bringing together all those with a stake in improving the life of refugees and the communities in which they find themselves. It is about, in part, ensuring the rights and needs of all displaced people are written into practice at all levels.

A landmark project

Faced with a growing crisis, the UNHCR asked our experts to investigate. Professor Gilbert and Anna Magdalena Rüsch, then a Senior Research Officer at Essex, interviewed representatives of the UN and International Committee of the Red Cross, and civil society in Geneva and New York. They went to Niger and Colombia to meet the people affected by displacement, and to interview government officials, the judiciary, UNHCR field practitioners and NGOs too.

Presenting their report in Geneva, they urged UNHCR to improve its engagement with the rule of law concept and with other UN bodies to enhance the long-term welfare of millions of refugees worldwide.

The fight goes on

Since the Essex findings were reported, the global refugee crisis has deepened but the move towards effective rule of law solutions continues.

Professor Gilbert and Anna Magdalena Rüsch contributed to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ 2015 note on international protection to the General Assembly. Professor Gilbert has joined the Geneva-based Solutions Alliance Thematic Group on the Rule of Law as its only academic member.

In 2016 Professor Gilbert was invited by German think-tank Konrad Adenauer Stiftung to take part in workshops in Manila and Canberra on migration and solutions for the Asia-Pacific region. In 2017 he and Anna Magdalena Rüsch wrote a policy paper on safe zones and safe corridors.

Research team

Anna Magdalena Rüsch 


Associate RSD Officer, UNHCR