Fundamental research

Melilla,2016@JosePalazonSafe with the neighbours? Refugee protection and EU external migration policy in Turkey and Marocco

Description: The European Union increasingly looks to outsource its international responsibility to protect refugees to third countries. Its policy space is limited, however, by international refugee and human rights law. This project assesses legal and actual refugee protection in Turkey and Morocco. The research focusses on refugees' 'user's perspective' on fundamental human rights, through field work, as well as a critical evaluation of national protection frameworks against international law minimum standards, including the non-refoulement principle. It will also be assessed if there exists an internationally shared responsibility to protect towards refugees, and what this could entail. Conclusions will include findings and recommendations for national asylum systems, the EU's external migration policy, and the international law framework.

ResearcherRuben Wissing 

Supervisor: Prof. Ellen Desmet 


Onderzoeksproject GezinsherenigingFamily reunification of Turkish migrants in Belgium and the Netherlands: a comparative study of legal consciousness of Turkish migrants in light of evolving policies

The research focuses on family reunification of Turkish migrants in Belgium and the Netherlands. From a socio-legal perspective the legal consciousness and the strategies of the migrants will be examined in light of evolving laws and policies in both countries. Fieldwork is an important component of the project. The researcher will conduct in-depth semi-structured interviews with Turkish migrants in Belgium and the Netherlands and will investigate migrants' legal consciousness regarding evolving laws and policies on family reunification in both countries. On the basis of these results, the researcher will make a thorough comparative analysis of the legal consciousness and used strategies concerning family reunification of Turkish migrants in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Researcher: Ayse Güdük

Supervisor: Prof. Ellen Desmet


Exiled and Separated: A multi-sited ethnography of refugee families attempting to reunite

Exiled and separatedMost European states allow refugees to access a facilitated procedure to reunify with their family members. Many studies, however, high-light how issues of timing, documentation and economic resources often make family reunions extremely difficult, if not impossible. If much has been written on the obstacles for migrants to enjoy their right to family life, little is known about the specific case of refugees. The multi-sited design of this project aims to reconstruct the complexity of power-relations, social expectations and structural impediments that influence the possibility of refugees to be with their families. First, by studying refugees in Europe (Belgium and Italy) and their families residing in transit countries, this project seeks to shed light on the transnational connections and flow of expectations which shape the everyday life of separated families. Second, by conducting research in diplomatic and migration bureaus in different locations, this study provides insights into the complex interactions between bureaucratic practices and the geographic and social stratagems that refugee families employ to meet - or circumvent - the necessary requirements. The research aims not only to a better understanding of the political and social contradictions of national border controls, asylum regime of European migration policies and their implications on the lives of refugees. The project is sponsored by FWO (2020-2023).

Researcher: Dr. Milena Belloni

Supervisors: Prof. Gert Verschraegen and Prof. Ellen Desmet


Economic refugees: an analysis of persecution and displacement in the new global era

UNHCR Photo Unit's Flickr Page, Creative Commons LicenseThe Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees does not accord protection to a new class of refugees who are a direct result of globalization. The persecution index is low and labels ‘economic refugees’ as undeserving, yet most refugees hail from countries where economic failure, political instability, poverty, and persecution are indissolubly linked. Therefore, this research seeks to establish if economic liberalization has become a serious form of economic persecution which international law should take into consideration when adjudicating asylum claims. In particular, could current programmes of economic liberalization, imposed by the industrialized West on African countries, constitute persecution within the definition of a ‘refugee’ in the 1951 Refugee Convention? This question is situated in the context of increasing numbers of people moving within and beyond Africa as a result of economic deprivation that is systemic and the product of a coercive world order. Conclusions will include findings and recommendations for a Protocol on Status Determination Officer’s (SDO) power of determination of the credible fear for economic refugees.

Researcher: Shepherd Mutsvara

Supervisors: prof. Joanna Bar (Pedagogical University of Krakow) and prof. Ellen Desmet


Children’s rights in asylum proceedings

Real title: Children’s rights in appellate asylum proceedings in Belgium: a legal ethnography

Short description: This project analyses how children’s rights are perceived, mobilised and practiced by the actors involved in appellate asylum proceedings in Belgium.

© Vincent Van Gogh – Country Road in Provence by NightMay 1890, oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cmLonger description: The relationship between children’s rights and appellate asylum proceedings is fraught with tensions and challenges. Whether unaccompanied or seeking asylum with their families, children and young people constitute a particularly underprivileged and vulnerable group whose human rights come face to face with the sovereignty of the state. Often, decision-makers are reluctant to engage with children’s rights law, while at the same time a lack of agency is attributed to child applicants.

This project adopts an interdisciplinary, contextualised and multi-actor approach to analyse how key stakeholders involved in the adjudication of Belgian asylum cases in appeal perceive, mobilise and practice children’s rights. Research methods from law (case law analysis) and anthropology (ethnography) will be combined to study the role and perspective of children and young people, their parents or guardians, lawyers, representatives of the first instance asylum authority, and judges from the Council for Alien Law Litigation (CALL).

The questions guiding this research are (1) how do individuals experience and understand children’s rights (perceive); (2) to what extent do they define relevant problems in terms of children’s rights (mobilise); and (3) which norms and practices shape the internal legal culture by which the CALL operates (practice)? The project contributes to the field of ‘critical children’s rights studies’, paying attention in particular to how children’s rights are shaped by children themselves and through interaction of children with other groups.

Researcher: Sara Lembrechts

Supervision: Prof. Dr. Ellen Desmet

Sponsored by: FWO (2020-2024)

Applied research

PALIM: pilot project addressing labour shortages through innovative labour migration models (2019-2020)


PALIM (Project Addressing Labour Shortages Through Innovative Labour Migration Models) is a pilot project carried out by the Belgian development agency, Enabel, with support of the European Union and the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMDP). The project aims to test a new labour migration model, by linking the development of the ICT sector in Morocco with the labour shortage gaps of well-trained ICT-staff in Flanders. Morocco is confronted with an excess of higher educated persons, who remain unemployed on the Moroccan labour market due to a lack of jobs. PALIM will train about 120 persons in Morocco as ICT workers. Ninety of them will then be coached to find a job in Morocco, about thirty persons will be accompanied in seeking employment in Belgium.
The research at Ghent University focuses, first, on the integration services offered by companies and private operators to third country nationals upon arrival in Flanders and Brussels. Second, a mapping and analysis will be made of the actors in Flanders and Brussels, responsible for the integration of migrant workers on a professional, social and personal level. Finally, the study will focus on the visa application procedure for third country nationals when applying for a single permit. The overall PALIM project is carried out by Enabel in co-operation with VDAB and ANAPEC (the Flemish and Moroccan employment counsellors), as well as the Flemish employers' organisations VOKA and Agoria, and their Moroccan counterparts, CGEM and APEBI. Fedasil and the Flemish Agency for Civic Integration take up a supporting role in this process.

Researchers: Geertrui Daem and Evelyne Van der Elst

Freedom to travelAnalysis of municipal practices regarding free movement of persons (2018-2020)

This research provides an insight into the administrative procedures regarding the implementation of the Directive 2014/54/EU into Belgian law, a European directive that intends to better facilitate the right to free movement of workers. The research contains a critical analysis and description of the municipal practices in the three regions of Belgium, focussing on the registration and residence formalities for EU citizens who exercise their right to free movement. The research also includes an exploratory analysis of residence formalities in the following countries: Germany, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Italy. Lastly, the research will give possible recommendations regarding the law and implementation thereof as well as suggestions for more efficient and uniform municipal practices. The research is carried out in collaboration with the EU Rights Clinic of the University of Kent and Fragomen; it is funded by Myria – the Federal Migration Centre.

Researchers: Roos-Marie van den Bogaard and Prof. Ellen Desmet


Council of Europe Handbook: Family reunification for refugee and migrant children – Standards and promising practices (2018-2020)Family Reunification for Refugee and Migrant Children

In May 2017, the Committee of Ministers adopted the Council of Europe Action Plan on Protecting Refugee and Migrant Children in Europe. It outlines concrete actions to be undertaken by the Council of Europe, grouped around three pillars. Assisting children and families in restoring family links is one of the actions under the second pillar aimed at providing refugee and migrant children with effective protection.
In the framework of the Action Plan, the Office of the Special Representative on Migration and Refugees has published a Handbook on family reunification for refugee and migrant children, available in English and in French. As a result of the sharp increase in the refugee and migrant population in recent years, many children and their families have experienced family separation. Member states are bound by various obligations related to family reunification, and the practical reunification of refugee and migrant children with their family members has proved complex. This handbook is a practical guide both to key legal standards and to promising practices in the field of family reunification and restoring family links. This publication is addressed to those who design and apply laws and is conceived as a point of reference for capacity-building material, technical assistance, co-operation projects and new practices for and with relevant authorities and institutions. It focuses on the reunification of families with children in the context of international migration, and in particular on reunification possibilities for unaccompanied and separated refugee and migrant children. It presents an overview of legal principles of human rights, children’s rights, refugee law and EU law relevant to family reunification and then discusses key features of family reunification procedures, with promising examples of law and practice. Ellen Desmet is one of the authors of the Handbook.

Researcher: Prof. Ellen Desmet


Visiting researchers

 Nikolett Takács (August 2018)

Niolett Takács Nikolett Takács is a PhD student at the International Law Department at the University of Miskolc, Hungary. At the same time she is carrying out research at the Regional Academy on the United Nations.

Nikolett's PhD project focuses on asylum law and human rights law, with particular attention to unaccompanied minor asylum seekers. She obtained a degree in law from the University of Miskolc and after that she started her PhD studies. She worked as an intern for 6 months at the Immigration and Asylum Office of Hungary. She is engaged in the Regional Academy on the United Nations where under the coordination of the IOM and the Academy she is part of a team which is examining the civil society engagement in the Global Compact for Migration. Nikolett carried out research at the Irish Centre for Human Rights in Galway where she examined international and regional norms regarding the rights of the child in asylum cases.‎ She obtained a scholarship from the Hungarian Ministry of Justice in order to carry out research at foreign universities to broaden her literature base for her dissertation. This way from the 17th until the 31st of August  2018 she had the opportunity to be a visiting researcher at Ghent University at the Migration Law Research Group under the supervision of prof. dr. Ellen Desmet.


Golam Nasibul Hoque (June 2017)

Golam Nasibul HoqueFrom March to June 2017, Md Golam Nasibul Hoque visited the Migration Law Research Group of Ghent University to carry out research for his MA thesis on “Civil Society's Initiatives on Intercultural Dialogue with Refugees: A Comparative Study of Italy, Ireland and Belgium” under the supervision of Professor Ellen Desmet with Erasmus+ funding, in the framework of his MA in Human Rights at Padova University, Italy. Mr. Nasibul is currently a Jean Monnet Ph.D. Fellow in European Studies on the topic of “Hate Crimes in Socio-Psychological Context”: A comparative study and assessment by intercultural dialogue in the context of the UK and Australia” at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. To conduct his research, he has been awarded a full fellowship under the New Zealand European Union Centres Network (EUCN).