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Vulnerabilities under the Global Protection Regime (VULNER)

How Does the Law Assess, Address, Shape and Produce the Vulnerabilities of the Protection Seekers?

Legal and policy instruments at global and European level increasingly emphasize the need to address the specific needs of vulnerable migrants. But what does it mean to be vulnerable? The aim of the VULNER project is to investigate this question through field studies in selected refugee settlements in Europe (Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Norway), Africa (Uganda and South Africa), the Middle East (Lebanon), and North America (Canada).

The project "VULNER" has been awarded with a three-year grant from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation framework (H2020-EU. - Europe's role as a global actor, notably regarding human rights and global justice; as well as H2020-EU. - Trusted organisations, practices, services and policies that are necessary to build resilient, inclusive, participatory, open and creative societies in Europe, in particular taking into account migration, integration and demographic change).


‘Vulnerability’ is increasingly used as a conceptual tool to guide the design and implementation of the global protection regime, as illustrated by the 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and the subsequent adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and of the final draft of the Global Compact on Refugees. However, ‘vulnerability’ lacks a sharp conceptualisation and still needs to be accompanied by a thorough understanding of its concrete meanings, practical consequences and legal implications. This research project aims to address these uncertainties from a critical and comparative perspective, with a focus on forced migration. It will provide a comprehensive analysis of how the ‘protection regimes’ of select countries address the vulnerabilities of ‘protection seekers’. The select countries are in Europe (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Norway), North America (Canada), the Middle East (Lebanon) and Africa (Uganda and South Africa). The analysis adopts two different yet complementary perspectives. First, the way the ‘vulnerabilities’ of the protection seekers are being assessed and addressed by the relevant norms and in the practices of the decision makers will be systematically documented and analysed through a combination of legal and empirical data. Second, the various forms and nature of the concrete experiences of ‘vulnerability’ as they are lived by the protection seekers, including the resilience strategies and how they are being continuously shaped in interactions with the legal frameworks, will be documented and analysed through empirical data collected during fieldwork research. Ultimately, the very notion of ‘vulnerability’ will be questioned and assessed from a critical perspective. An alternative concept, such as ‘precarity’, may be suggested to better reflect the concrete experiences of the protection seekers.

The VULNER partners include the following research and academic institutes:

  1. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Germany
  2. Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Germany
  3. Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium
  4. Università Ca' Foscari Venezia, Italy
  5. Institutt for Samfunnsforskning, Norway
  6. University of Ottawa, Canada
  7. McGill University, Canada
  8. York University, Canada
  9. Centre for Lebanese Studies, Lebanon

Find out more about the project here.

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