In an era of record forced migration, Kaldor Centre Senior Research Fellow Dr Claire Higgins has won a prestigious, highly competitive Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) to investigate policies that enable safe passage for refugees.

Dr Higgins, an historian, earlier this week released a policy brief, Safe Journeys and Sound Policy: Expanding protected entry for refugees, that directly informs the global drive for more sustainable solutions. In a podcast interview about these innovative schemes, she recalls:

‘When I was researching how Australia established its refugee resettlement program back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I came across this very special procedure in which Australian migration officials were posted in countries like El Salvador or Chile, and they would help dissidents and former political prisoners to get out of those countries.'

‘They did incredibly brave things in helping people to escape.... risking their own safety to help people, and Australia made a real difference to people fleeing authoritarian regimes at that time. 

‘Nowadays, Australia has a very similar mechanism in place but it operates on a lesser scale.’

Through protected entry procedures, people fleeing persecution or other serious harm can safely cross international borders and access protection as refugees by approaching consular officials before they travel. Such schemes, which have existed in several countries including Australia, ensure that desperate people do not have to undertake dangerous cross-border journeys or live a precarious life in a transit country that cannot provide protection.

Dr Higgins will examine ten programs operated by Australia, the United States, Canada and Italy at various times between 1978 and 2018.  Her project will investigate why and how States have operated such procedures in the past, and the outcomes for the system of international protection. 

This DECRA funding grant, awarded by the Australian Research Council for 2020-2022 and announced today, will enable Dr Higgins to produce the first international comparative history of protected entry procedures, placing Australian history at the centre of this ground-breaking comparative analysis. 

Her work is directly relevant to current United Nations-led initiatives, which call for States such as Australia to place greater emphasis on protected entry as a humane means of responding to forced migration.

With more than 25 million refugees around the world, the international community is actively seeking sustainable solutions. A core aim of the Global Compact for Refugees, adopted in December 2018, is to bolster complementary pathways for refugees by using procedures such as protected entry. 

This international effort underscores the urgency and exigency of Dr Higgins’s research into protected entry procedures. This knowledge is essential, because protected entry procedures are discretionary measures that States can use to support the resettlement of refugees. 

Dr Higgins explored the issue when she was researching her first book, Asylum by Boat: Origins of Australia’s refugee policy (NewSouth, 2017). Her DECRA project builds on the rigorous, innovative and policy-oriented work she completed as a Fulbright Postdoctoral Scholar in 2017-18 at Georgetown University, as a Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow at the European University Institute in 2017, and her current work as an Innovation Fellow at UCLA’s Luskin Center for History & Policy.

Before joining the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW Law, Dr Higgins earned a DPhil in History at Merton College, Oxford.