Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header



Reporting period: 2021-02-01 to 2023-04-30

How can the international community re-align international protection with the international human rights system in today's turbulent political context?

The UN’s 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees obliges its signatories to adopt common goals for international protection. However, current re-nationalization processes are generating substantial bottom-up pressure on global policy implementation. Amidst intensifying political divides, the international community is endeavoring to re-entrench the currently shattered international protection system in human rights by using the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). Our vision is to discover ways of advancing an effective international protection system in today’s turbulent political context.
PROTECT has identified the key factors that facilitate or hinder a re-alignment of international protection with the international human rights system. We have identified the legal norms, governance modes, and public discourses that have been performing the best in advancing human rights-sensitive practices. This was done by scrutinizing, quantitatively and qualitatively, how the existing variety of policy approaches have been performing over a long time span. In addition to the EU as a case, 27 countries in Europe and elsewhere have been studied. We spotted the best performing instruments by studying:

• constructions of the relationships between the GCR, GCM and human rights (doctrinal and comparative legal studies of EU, Canada, and South Africa, 2020-2022)
• history of the asylum offices (historical case studies of 11 countries, 1950/70-2020)
• effectiveness of national asylum determination systems (quantitative mapping of 16 countries, 2000-2020)
• handling of entries at border zones (ethnographic studies at migrant entry points in EU, Canada and South Africa, 2020-22)
• civil society attitudes and involvement in international protection (16 countries, 2020-2022)
• citizen attitudes to international protection (27 countries, representative surveys, 2021)
• media framings of international protection (big data, 18 countries for traditional media; 9 languages for social media, 2014-22)

The best performing norms, governance modes, and discourses were then put on the following tests:

• Cleavage-pressure test (media pressure on policymakers by using big media data)
• Citizen tolerability test (citizen and civil society pressure on policymakers through attitude surveys)
• Crisis tests (policy performance during the migration crisis of the 2010s and the Covid-19 crisis)

Our findings suggest that a transition to the human-rights paradigm may be achieved by:
• disembedding refugee and asylum laws, policies, and institutions from those that handle other policy areas that are under national discretion, such as
immigration, border, security, and development policy
• introducing a clear distinction between the conceptual tools concerning “refugees/asylum seekers” and “migrants” in citizen, civil society, and media discourses
• introducing new measures to protect other protection seeking migrants than those who fall under the categories specified in the Geneva Convention
• implementing the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact on Migration in full and truthfully.

Yet, such separation should not imply that, as long as we treat protection seekers fairly, it is legitimate to deny mobility rights to other people, criminalize migrants, externalize and securitize the management of migration. Securitization, externalization, criminalization, and limitation of mobility is the main hindrance for transition to the human rights paradigm in international protection. A true transition to the human rights paradigm cannot be complete before the human rights of all migrants are recognized regardless of migration status, in the spirit of the Global Compact on Migration. This requires a complementary reading and implementation of the GCR and GCM.

Feasibility tests of our suggestions show that around 67% of the citizens in the 27 countries surveyed, except Slovakia and the Czech Republic, would support them. This also includes the transfer of sovereignty to the UNHCR, IOM and EU during crisis situations. This support is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. There would be critique against these measures in traditional media. Sympathetic discourses would be more prominent in social media. Because of overwhelming citizen support, these proposed measures are feasible. Regarding the resilience of the system, the refugee crisis of the 2010s and the public health crisis (Covid-19) have shown the relevance of international responsibility sharing, supranational coordination, and practicing international protection as an exemption from the current international order.

Our research outputs are freely available in open access academic journals and at We have also published policy briefs, blogs and vlogs. We are promoting these outputs on social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube). PROTECT communicated its messages to the UNHCR, EC, EP, African Union, Canadian and South African governments and relevant EU member states and non-state organizations. We received spot-on comments on our reform proposals from high levels of the UNHCR, EC, EUAA, and ECRE and other non-state organizations. Our work is made visible to the general public through multiple appearances in the news media.
PROTECT has made scientific progress by adapting the cleavage theory to studies of the global politics of refugee protection and devising the first cleavage-theory based data grids and comparative frames.

PROTECT’s legal research has produced and published the very first "A Practitioners’ Handbook on the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) and EU and Member States’ Commitments under the UN Global Compact on Refugees and the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration". This work will contribute to a smooth implementation of the GCR and GCM within the still developing CEAS context. Our legal-doctrinal studies have found that, while GCR can be used as a soft law to stimulate international responsibility sharing, GCM can be used as a soft law and interpretive framework for protecting the human rights of other protection seekers than refugees.

PROTECT's research has identified the legal norms and institutional architectures that can trigger a transition to a human-rights based international protection system. Earlier literature and GCR, GCM, CEAS and the EU's New Pact on Migration and Asylum do not specify institutional arrangements for the governance of asylum determination. PROTECT has filled this gap by identifying the best performing legal and institutional frames.

PROTECT's interdisciplinary big media media data studies have detected different approaches to international protection in media and identified communication strategies to increase public recognition of the right to international protection. These can be deployed by the UN, EU, and their member states. Likewise, PROTECT's attitude surveys have mapped the pressures on policymakers from the citizens and civil society organizations. Thus, we have not only proposed reforms but also assessed their democratic legitimacy and feasibility.