Women in Refugee Law (WiRL) brings together asylum seeking and refugee women, senior and early career scholars, practitioners, policymakers and activists from all states and jurisdictions to re-centre the study of refugee women within refugee law, policy and practice.
Why WiRL was Established
The Refugee Convention was not drafted with the protection needs of women in mind. As a result, while women and girls make up 50% of the world’s displaced people, refugee law, policy and practice does not satisfactorily recognise gender-specific forms of persecution such as domestic violence and sex trafficking.
Furthermore, there has been a loss of momentum in research addressing the needs and experiences of women claiming asylum (Arbel et al (eds), ‘Gender in Refugee Law’, Routledge 2014), while in some jurisdictions, organisations that focus on women’s asylum have closed or struggle to survive.
In response to these concerns, Christel Querton (UWE Bristol) and Moira Dustin (University of Sussex) launched Women in Refugee Law (WiRL) in May 2021 as a collaborative platform for researchers, refugee women and practitioners. Christel and Moira have a history of working in this field within and outside academia, including on the Asylum Aid Women’s Project where they met. Christel is a qualified barrister with practice experience. Moira developed a network on LGBTQI+ asylum for the SOGICA project and previously worked at the UK Refugee Council.
- refocusing attention on the needs and experiences of refugee women
- reviewing the state of protection in domestic jurisdictions and internationally
- identifying any unrecognised setbacks to adequate protection
- exploring new challenges and opportunities for collaborative work
- building an open and inclusive global network to take forward all of the above objectives.
Since it’s launch, WiRL has grown from a brainstorming session between 20 individuals to an established network with more than 140 members who meet quarterly to take forward initiatives based on the network’s shared values:
- Diversity – we are a diverse membership in respect to gender, sector, discipline and region
- Collaboration – we work collaboratively to advance the network’s objectives
- Knowledge – the network has knowledge production and sharing at its centre
What WiRL has achieved in its first two years:
- Developed and diversified our membership to more than 140 individuals (as of July 2023) from different academic disciplines, sectors and countries;
- Established an expert and diverse Steering Group that meets biannually to plan WiRL’s activities and strategies based on agreed Terms of Reference. Our Steering Group includes practitioners, activists and academics from countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Australasia and the Americas. Steering Group members lead on particular areas of activity – for example, membership development and social media – on a rolling basis.
- Developed an ongoing programme of quarterly ‘Kitchen Table’ events that bring the wider membership together to discuss new research and policy, plan future activities and identify common concerns.
- Raised the profile of the network by holding a conference in November 2021 that brought together 70 academics, refugees, activists and practitioners from different countries.
- Produced a special issue of Refugee Survey Quarterly including academic articles alongside ‘field reflections’ by practitioners and NGO stakeholders (published in September 2022).
- Developed a social media communications strategy, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles to share WiRL’s activities, research and engaging in knowledge exchange (@WiRL_Network).
- Collaborated on a Women in International Law symposium on the academic blog Völkerrechtsblog for International Women’s Day 2023 through a series of blogposts, authored by WiRL members.
Convenors and Research Assistant
WiRL is convened by:
Dr Christel Querton Christel is a Wallscourt Fellow in Law at UWE Bristol and has worked for over ten years in the field of refugee, immigration and human rights law.
Her research explores international refugee law, armed conflicts and gender. Christel previously practised as an asylum, immigration and human rights barrister and worked with the Women’s Project at Asylum Aid as Legal Policy Officer (2010-2012) and then as Advisory Committee member (2012-2019).
Dr Moira Dustin. Moira is module convenor and tutor on Gender and Group Identities in the Refugee Context, part of the MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. She is Lecturer in the School of Law, Politics and Sociology at the University of Sussex, where from 2016 to 2020, she was the UK lead on the European Research Council project, SOGICA - Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Claims of Asylum: A European human rights challenge.
She is now Co-Investigator on the ESRC project, Negotiating Queer Identities Following Forced Migration. Moira was also an Advisory Committee member of the Women’s Project at Asylum Aid and previously worked at the British Refugee Council.
Nicola Robbins ([email protected]) is WiRL’s Research Assistant. Nicola is completing an MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. She sits on the Board for Kent Refugee Action Network, a charity that works with separated young people who are seeking asylum or have recently been granted refugee status in Kent, UK.
Nicola brings over 15 years of experience working in communications-focused roles and has managed diverse stakeholders. She is particularly interested in exploring and challenging the dominant media framing of people who seek asylum.
WiRL Steering Group
WiRL’s Steering Group meets twice a year to plan the network’s strategy and activities. Steering Group members are:
Professor Deborah Anker is Clinical Professor of Law and Founder of the Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC). She has taught law students at Harvard for over 30 years. Author of a leading treatise, Law of Asylum in the United States, Professor Anker has co-drafted ground-breaking gender asylum guidelines and amicus curiae briefs.
Professor Anker is one of the most widely known asylum scholars and practitioners in the United States; she is cited frequently by international and domestic courts and tribunals, including the United States Supreme Court. Professor Deborah Anker is a pioneer in the development of clinical legal education in the immigration field, training students in direct representation of refugees and creating a foundation for clinics at law schools around the country.
Gabriella Bettiga holds an LLM from SOAS in London. She is a solicitor and a qualified lawyer in Italy. She is the Founding Director of MGBe Legal, a firm specialised in asylum and immigration, and is particular interested in complex applications and appeals.
Gabriella is a member of the Tribunal Procedure Committee and a trustee of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association. She is also the co-editor of the casenote section of the ILPA Journal of Immigration Asylum and Nationality Law. She has been Chair of the Independent Cost and Funding Adjudicators at the Legal Aid Agency for many years, and she regularly delivers training and writes articles on immigration for various publications.
Professor Heaven Crawley is Head of Equitable Development and Migration at United Nations University Centre for Policy Research (UNU-CPR) in New York, and holds a Chair in International Migration at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations (CTPSR). Heaven has been Director of the Migration for Development and Equality Hub (MIDEQ) since 2018. MIDEQ is a global consortium of 18 research institutions, six international organizations and numerous local and regional partners that aims to transform knowledge and understanding of the relationships between migration, inequality and development in the context of the Global South. Heaven was previously head of asylum and migration research at the UK Home Office, Associate Director at the Institute for Public Policy Research and managed an international research consultancy before returning to academia in 2006. She was a founding member of the Refugee Women’s Legal Group (RWLG) and her book Refugees and Gender: Law and Process (Polity Press, 2001) continues to be widely cited.
Laura De Somer is a Senior Policy Officer in the multi-stakeholder engagement team of the Global Compact on Refugees at UNHCR Headquarters in Geneva. She serves as the main focal point in UNHCR for the Global Academic Interdisciplinary Network initiative and the related multistakeholder pledge (Multistakeholder Pledge: Shifting Power - Advancing Localization of Research and Elevating the Voices of Host and Forcibly Displaced Communities Globally) to be brought forward at the 2023 Global Refugee Forum. She holds an LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.
Laura has extensive experience working in UNHCR field operations, including in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Djibouti, where she focused on protection and durable solutions.
Professor Liliana Lyra Jubilut holds a PhD and a Masters degree in International Law from Universidade de São Paulo and a LLM in International Legal Studies from NYU School of Law. She is a Professor at Universidade Católica de Santos where she coordinates the UNHCR Sergio Vieira de Mello Chair and the Research Group “Direitos Humanos e Vulnerabilities”. She was a Visiting Scholar at Columbia Law School and a Visiting Fellow at the Refugee Law Initiative, has been working on refugee issues since 1999, has published extensively on the topic and gave lectures in events organized by institutions in South, Central and North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.
Liliana is a member of IOM's Migration Research Leaders’ Syndicate, and the Academic Council on the Global Compact for Migration. She is also Publishing High-Level Adviser for the IOM and the Co-Chair of the Global Academic Interdisciplinary Network from the Global Compact on Refugees.
Loraine Masiya Mponela was WiRL Co-convenor from February 2023-January 2024. Loraine is a Migrants Rights Campaigner and a Poet based in Coventry, England. She is the ex-chair for Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group (CARAG) 2018-2022. CARAG is a peer support group which is for and run by people seeking asylum, refugees, migrants and anyone subjected to the UK Immigration and Asylum system.
Loraine sits on the Board for Women for Refugee Women and on the Management Committee for Asylum Support Appeals Project (ASAP) among other activities. Because of her community work with CARAG, Loraine has been recognised as an ‘Everyday Hero’ for Coventry UK City of Culture 2021. She is originally from Malawi and has been recognised as a refugee. Loraine is the author of I was not born a Sad Poet and Now I Sing: 50 poems to celebrate 50 years. Loraine has a lovely son.
Dr Ronald Sebba Kalyango is a lecturer in the School of Women and Gender Studies and the Department of Social Work and Social Administration, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda. His PhD topic is Returning home: Gender and Choice among Internally Displaced Persons in Gulu district, Northern Uganda. He teaches courses on women in conflict and post-conflict situations; forced migration; refugee livelihoods and household economy; migration health, gender-based violence and children in conflict.
Currently, he is a co-coordinator on a Certificate course - Migration Health, run by the School of Social Sciences Makerere University, Center for Health and Migration - University of Vienna and supported by the IOM. He has coordinated two collaborative programs between Makerere University and the University of Oldenburg, Germany, that is Implementing Migration Studies (IMMIS) and European Masters in Migration and Inter Cultural Relations (EMMIR). He also served as Senior Education and Training Officer for the Refugee Law Project in Kampala between 2000 to 2002 where he established a training program on Human Rights and Refugee Law.
He has worked as a national consultant for several organisation such as School of Oriental and African Studies, UK; the World Bank, Uganda Bureau of Statistics, FAO, UNFPA, WHO, American Refugee Committee, Regional Centre for Quality of Health Care and Fredrich Ebert Foundation among others. Ronald is a member of several academic associations such as the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) and Council for the Development of Social Research in Africa (CODESRIA), Social Science Research Council among others.
Dr Sara L McKinnon is Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Politics and Culture in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with affiliations in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, Latin Americas, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies, and the Human Rights Program. She is the author of Gendered Asylum: Race and Violence in US Law and Politics (University of Illinois Press, 2016), which charts the incorporation of gender provisions in US refugee and asylum law within the context of broader national and global politics.
Her current work examines US foreign policy rhetorics that frame Mexico as violent. Drawing on archival research and field work, this project examines how violence in Mexico is imagined, what is erased as violence, the material impacts of this discourse, and what this image of the country does for US geopolitical and economic interests.
Maggy Moyo is a selfless human rights campaigner. She is passionate about advocating for human rights including the rights of immigrants, migrants, marginalised groups (e.g. LGBT rights) and those of vulnerable women, children, the disabled and the elderly. She fights against social injustice and advocates for equality. She is a trustee at Manchester Rape Crisis. She is currently working for Right to Remain as the Organizer for Manchester for “These Walls Must Fall” (TWMF) campaign, a network of community-based campaigners who are part of a movement to end immigration detention in the UK.
Right to Remain is a registered charity which works with communities, groups and organisations across the UK providing information, resources, training and assistance to help people to establish their right to remain and challenges injustice in the immigration and asylum system. She is also an active member of Restoration of Human Rights (ROHR) Zimbabwe and is in the Executive Committee of the North Branch of their UK Chapter.
Professor Karen Musalo, the Bank of America Foundation Chair in International Law is the founding director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at UC Law, San Francisco. She is lead co-author of Refugee Law and Policy: An International and Comparative Approach (fifth edition), as well as numerous reports, book chapters and articles. Professor Musalo has litigated major cases in gender asylum, serving as lead attorney in Matter of Kasinga, counsel in Matter of R-A-, amicus in Matter of A-R-C-G-, and co-counsel in Matter of A-B-.
She has received numerous awards for her pioneering legal work, including an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Lehman College in 2012. Her current research focuses on gender based violence, as well as climate change and migration in the northern triangle countries.
Lore Roels (she/her) is a doctoral researcher in the Migration Law Research Group (Law Faculty) and the International Centre for Reproductive Health (Medicine and Health Sciences Faculty) at Ghent University, Belgium. She holds a Master of Laws degree from Ghent University and an LLM degree from LSE, specialised in asylum law, gender and human rights. Lore’s doctoral research echoes UNHCR’s concern that asylum authorities base credibility assessments on stereotypical gender perceptions. She applies the concept of ‘rape mythology’ to asylum and non-refoulement procedures of persons fleeing sexual and gender-based violence
Professor Dr İkbal Sibel Safi is a professor of Public International Law and Refugee Law at Dokuz Eylul University, İzmir, Turkey. Currently, she is the head of the EU Law department at the Dokuz Eylul University, Faculty of Law and the director of Dokuz Eylul University Research Centre for Women's Rights, DEKAUM.
She graduated from Ankara University Faculty of Law and completed her first LLM degree in European Union Law and Institutions at the University of Bucharest, Faculty of Law, and her second LLM degree in International Public Law and Refugee Law, at the University of East London, Law School. In the last year of her doctorate, which she started in the field of International Public Law at the University of Bucharest, she attended the University of East London as part of the EU integrated doctoral cooperation program and completed it with an honour degree.
Afterwards, she worked in the field of Refugee Law at the University of East London in the United Kingdom and worked on research projects as an associate member at the Centre for Migration, Refugees and Belonging (CMRB) in the UK. She did post-doctoral studies at Queen Mary University Law School UK as a visiting fellow. Her main fields of study are: particular social group criteria in Refugee Law and inconsistencies in court decisions, EU Law, Human Rights Law, Human trafficking in international law and Refugee Law, PSG on cultural relativism.
Olajumoke Yacob-Haliso is Associate Professor of African and African American Studies in the Mandel Centre for the Humanities at Brandeis University. Before that, she was Professor of Political Science at Babcock University in Nigeria. She has spent over 15 years conducting field research on protection issues affecting African refugee women on the continent at various stages of their displacement, from exile to return. Olajumoke was Global South Scholar-in-Residence at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, Switzerland; African Studies Association Presidential Fellow; and Visiting Professor at the Rapoport Centre for Human Rights and Justice at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, amongst others.
Her refugee research has been supported by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the International Development Research Centre, the American Council of Learned Societies, and so on. Dr Yacob-Haliso’s most recent publication on African refugee women is a chapter in the ground-breaking Palgrave Handbook of African Women’s Studies, while other articles are published in African Affairs, the Journal of Peacebuilding and Development, and others.
Natasha Yacoub is a refugee law practitioner and scholar. She has worked for the UN Refugee Agency for 19 years - including postings in Sudan, Egypt, Myanmar, UNHQ New York, Australia and the Pacific - and was a decision maker on the Refugee Review Tribunal of Australia. She is a PhD scholar at the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at the University of New South Wales, undertaking a feminist legal theory analysis of the law governing refugee return. She teaches on the MA programme in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies at the University of London.
The Steering Group is guided by its Terms of Reference, agreed in September 2022.
Funding and support
WiRL convenors Moira Dustin and Christel Querton work in the Law Schools of the Universities of Sussex and UWE Bristol respectively, and WiRL benefits from managerial, IT, Human Resources and other in-kind support provided by both institutions.
Since WiRL launched, it has received funding from:
- The University of Sussex’ ESRC IAA and AHRC Impact Acceleration Awards (2022-2023)
- Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) Knowledge Exchange funding from the School of Law, Politics and Sociology, University of Sussex (2023)
- Small Projects and Events Fund award from the Society of Legal Scholars (2023-2024)