The Kaldor Centre’s Natasha Yacoub was awarded the 'Emerging Scholar' prize for the Asian Society of International Law this month for her article ‘A New History of Refugee Protection’.

Disrupting a narrative of ‘human rights exceptionalism’ in Southeast Asia, Yacoub’s article in the Asian Journal of International Law proposes a re-think of the history of refugee protection in the region, focusing on the post-World War Two period (1945–1979).

Drawing on archival material, Yacoub first examines the small but powerful role of Southeast Asian states during the drafting of the 1951 Refugee Convention, when they challenged colonial powers and asserted human rights.

The article considers key Southeast Asian refugee-hosting states' subsequent development – with other post-colonial states – of regional standards to protect refugees under the auspices of the Asian-African Legal Consultative Committee, the Aliens Principles of 1961 and Bangkok Principles of 1966.

Examining Thailand's protection of Vietnamese refugees, Yacoub also places international and regional action in the domestic context.

This post-war history of protecting refugees in Southeast Asia offers valuable lessons from the Global South for the region and beyond.

'I am honoured to receive this prize for my archival research on refugee protection in Southeast Asia,’ Yacoub said. ‘The article represents over a year and a half of full-time doctoral research, interrupted by the COVID outbreak. The article seeks to make a humble contribution to scholarship disrupting a narrative about a lacuna or rejection of refugee law in Southeast Asia. 

‘It calls for research with a wider historical lens, especially pre-colonial Southeast Asia. Exploring knowledge systems and practices historically offers lessons to transform refugee law in the future.’

Read the prize-winning article