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The 'return turn' in asylum law and policy

WAIT has strengthened its research group with post doctor Jessica Schultz, a lawyer specialized in international refugee law and human rights law.

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Janne B. Bøe

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What is your research about?

My project explores how refugee law and policy structure time.  How do factors like age, length of residence, connections with other countries, imminence of harm, and durability of protection determine who can access or remain in a state? How do current policies and practices extend the protracted nature of displacement for many refugees?

In particular I’ll look at various dimensions of what I call the ‘return turn’ in refugee law and policy. In recent years, this ‘return turn’ has featured a wide range of state policies intended to deter or deflect would-be migrants. This includes the grant of temporary protection (with fewer entitlements) to refugees from countries in conflict, regular reviews of people’s continued need for protection, extraterritorial processing of refugee claims and ‘safe third country’ rules underpinning refugee transfers.

Why and how did you become interested in your research theme(s)?

The temporal and spatial dimensions of refugee experience have been themes running through much of my work the past 20 years. One of my first jobs out of law school was to identify resettlement cases among protracted refugee populations in East Africa and the Great Lakes region. As a researcher, I analyzed how policies designed to prevent arrivals or return refugees often prolong forced displacement. For instance, as discussed in my PhD work, the decision to refuse or revoke refugee status if a safe area exists in the country of origin means that ‘returnees’ remain unsettled and often re-migrate. The tension between such outcomes and the overall goals of international refugee law and policy – to restore membership in a community – seem important to examine more closely.

What methodology do you apply and what is your data consisting of?

I employ traditional legal method when interpreting national, regional and international rules governing migration. In addition, I use empirical approaches to understand administrative practice and its consequences for migrants.

How is your research relevant to the public?

‘Return turn’ policies create a population without full membership rights, and therefore pose a host of challenges to the welfare state, to local communities and of course to migrants with an uncertain future. One of my goals is to make sense of the fragmented legal landscape so that policy-makers, bureaucrats and the public can better engage with the consequences of these policies.