A pioneering scholar of incomparable regard in the field of international law, and a mentor to many others, the Kaldor Centre’s Guy S Goodwin-Gill is retiring from UNSW’s Faculty of Law & Justice at the end of 2021.

The move follows the crowning achievement of a new, fully expanded and updated edition of The Refugee in International Law (OUP, 2021). Goodwin-Gill published the first edition in 1983 to ‘serve not only as an authoritative statement of the current law, but also as a pointer to the future, as a basis for further enquiry and the development of appropriate principles and solutions’. Indeed, that book, in many people’s view, established the modern field of international refugee law. It is routinely called a ‘classic’ text.

As the field has grown, both in scope and complexity, so has the book. Goodwin-Gill’s co-author since the third edition has been Kaldor Centre Director Jane McAdam AO, and for this 864-page fourth edition, they were joined by UNSW doctoral candidate Emma Dunlop. At the Kaldor Centre, The Refugee in International Law is simply known at ‘The Book’. Over its nearly 40 years in publication, the refugee protection regime has come under wave after wave of pressure, but Goodwin-Gill has never wavered in his clear-eyed commitment to the rights of people to seek asylum and to live in safety and dignity.

Professor Goodwin-Gill joined the Kaldor Centre in 2017 as Acting Director, having stepped down from one of the most distinguished academic posts in the world – Senior Research Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford. Shortly after his arrival at UNSW, he publicly questioned ‘whether recent statements at the political level were driven by calculated ignorance or intentional disinformation’, adding:

‘[T]he present Prime Minister might like to recall that Australia’s “second to none” record on border protection is one of abuse, ill-treatment, suicide, self-harm, and the intentional destruction of childhood, all of which is well-documented and repeatedly confirmed in recent rulings on the medical evacuation of people sent offshore by Australia, and all of which has to be compensated, not from the pockets of those responsible, but by the people of Australia.’

While Goodwin-Gill continued to collect honours during his Kaldor Centre tenure, including the 2020 Stefan A. Riesenfeld Memorial Award from Berkeley Law for outstanding contributions to the field, his focus has never been on awards but rather on developing a better understanding and application of this contentious area of law. Apart from holding academic appointments around the world, he has also practised as a barrister from Blackstone Chambers in London, advocating before the courts in a number of prominent cases. He has worked in various roles with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), including in Sydney in the 1970s and 80s, as Australia formulated its first refugee policies. Joining the Kaldor Centre represented a homecoming of sorts.

In Sydney, when not teaching undergraduates, supervising PhD students, conducting his own research or supporting the Kaldor Centre, Goodwin-Gill is often pedalling one or other of his bikes up and down beachside hills, and he’s been an annual fundraiser in charity cycling events throughout NSW and Victoria. At the end of this year, however, he will leave the Kaldor Centre, not to mention his local ocean views and French bakery, to join his wife, Sharon Rusu, a refugee status decision-maker, in Ottawa, Canada.

While based in Sydney, his commanding voice on matters of contemporary international refugee law has continued to be sought worldwide. Speaking to the 2021 American Society of International Law annual meeting, he outlined how UNHCR’s mandate should be updated to provide protection and assistance to refugees, the stateless, the internally displaced, and to migrants without protection. This year, he also addressed the contemporary challenges of Europe’s maritime interception policies and the need for genuine responsibility-sharing there. His insight also informs the Kaldor Centre’s contribution to deliberations in the United Kingdom about its Nationality and Borders Bill 2021.

As COVID-19 hit, he co-authored a report on human mobility and human rights, developed with partners at Columbia, Cornell and the Zolberg Institute in the USA, outlining the Principles of Protection for Migrants, Refugees, and Other Displaced Persons during the pandemic.  

He was also a driving force behind the Kaldor Centre Principles for Australian Refugee Policy as well as adding his expertise to critical parliamentary submissions on Australian policy, ranging from support for refugees in and from Afghanistan to the ‘medevac’ bills. 

He remains Emeritus Fellow of All Souls and Emeritus Professor of International Refugee Law at the University of Oxford, as well as an Honorary Associate of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre.

He continues his affiliation with the Kaldor Centre as an Honorary Professor at UNSW, where his ever-present intellectual rigour, depth and clarity, not to mention his day-to-day kindness, wit and good humour, will be sorely missed.