Human Rights Law Centre

Forced Migration Unit

Our forced migration unit conducts interdisciplinary work which focuses on key themes in contemporary forced migration research, policy and practice. The unit engages with civil society, international scholars and practitioners, advocates and governments to understand forced migration, and propose alternative solutions to the challenges it engenders.

Political, environmental and legal developments over the past couple of decades have triggered policy changes which pose a threat to the very meaning of international protection in international law.

A common feature of these policy changes is a trend towards the externalisation of migration, exemplified by the offshoring of asylum processing and detention by Australia, the implementation of the European Agenda on Migration by the European Union and its Member States, and by recent attempts in the United States to impose a 'travel ban' from certain countries.

The significance of research on forced migration, therefore, continues to increase and so does the need to identify policy approaches that have international protection at their core.

Led by Dr Daria Davitti, the Forced Migration Unit benefits from collaboration with national and international NGOs, experts and practitioners in international, regional and domestic human rights law, development and humanitarian aid, children's rights, political analysts, and critical security studies.

The unit engages directly with affected populations through its Refugee Clinic, established in 2020, which is the first of its kind in the UK.

The unit has also produced a series of policy briefings, following its workshop: Tackling Root Causes? EU Aid and Governance to Control Migration, which brought together scholars, non-governmental organisations, policy and lawmakers to discuss the nexus between EU development policies and EU migration policies, and their broader legal and political implications.


Unit Head

Dr Daria Davitti, Assistant Professor in the School of Law, whose body of work includes examining the legality of the policies of the European Agenda on Migration, the privatisation of migration, and the role of private, military and security companies in the European refugee 'crisis'.

Unit members

Network members

Mural with books

Policy Briefings

The unit publishes the FMU Policy Briefs Series, which explores the nexus between EU development policies and EU migration policies, and their broader legal and political implications.

Mural created by Joel Artista

HRLC Refugee Clinic

The Clinic was established in February 2020 and works in collaboration with Across Borders and Saint Andrews Refugee Services (StARS). It is the first of its kind in the UK.



Our research looks critically, and from a variety of perspectives, at recent EU measures adopted to implement the European Agenda on Migration. It aims to understand what drives the ongoing privatisation of migration, and how EU policies affect access to international protection. Explore a selection of our projects:

Featured work

Privatising Migration: A Solution for the European Union? (Nottingham, 17 to 18 June 2019)

With a sharp rise in deaths at sea, the long summer of migration of 2015 marked a crucial point for setting the tone of the political discourse and development of law and policy in this area. Reflected also in the launch of the European Agenda on Migration in May of the same year, the external dimensions of European Union (EU) migration policy have been advanced and have continued to disclose a concerning focus on preventing migration, mainly through an increase in externalisation policies and privatisation of migration control.

This latter trend of outsourcing migration control operations has spread to a number of areas, including those related to deportations and removals, housing, visa processing, transport, detention of asylum seekers and security of reception and processing centres across Europe and overseas as well as the procurement of digital technologies for entry/exit systems at the border.

In light of the documented abuses that have occurred at the hands of private companies, it is vital to assess the human impact of such policies as well as identifying the applicable legal frameworks that hold both the private companies and the contracting institutions and states accountable. In this context is also important to answer the following questions: How can these frameworks be utilised to prevent such abuses from occurring? What are the legal and policy implications of this mechanism of outsourcing? Can this be seen as a credible response to current migratory flows into Europe?

In light of this changing landscape, the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) and the European Policy Centre (EPC) will host a timely expert workshop to examine the policy and legal implications of current forms of privatisation in a context of increasing externalisation of migration control.

If your research is related to this topic and would like to attend the workshop, please contact, Laura Wills. Early career researchers are particularly welcome.

This workshop is part of a larger project focusing on privatisation of migration. Work has previously focused more specifically the role of private, military and security companies in the European Agenda on Migration, and the international legal implications that their involvement engenders.

This work was presented at the Third Business and Human Rights Scholars Conference at Santa Clara University in September 2017 and was published in 2019 in the special issue on Business, Human Rights and Security of the Business and Human Rights Journal. In April 2019, Daria was also invited to contribute to the Expert Meeting on Gender and Private Military and Security Companies, organised by the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries.


Development Aid and Migration

This project was carried out in collaboration with Professor La Chimia, and examines the external dimension of the European Agenda on Migration. It focuses in particular on the use of development aid as part of bilateral agreements with third countries to enhance cooperation on migration. The project analyses the implications of these agreements from the perspective of both development aid and international protection, through fieldwork in Afghanistan, Sudan and in Europe.

This work was presented in November 2017 at the international workshop 'Tackling Root Causes? Aid and Governance to Control Migration' organised in Nottingham by the Forced Migration Unit. This project is ongoing through our Forced Migration network and our Policy Briefs Series.

The European Agenda on Migration

A study of the European Agenda on Migration from a theoretical and philosophical perspective, using the work of Foucault, Agamben and Esposito (amongst others) to critique the measures adopted in response to the European refugee 'crisis' and to challenge the humanitarian language deployed in implementing these harmful measures. This work was presented by Dr Davitti at the Sixth Annual Junior Faculty Forum for International Law 2017, organised by Professor Anne Orford, Professor Dino Kritsiotis and Professor Joseph Weiler, and published in February 2019 in the European Journal of International Law.

Guiding Refugees via European Exchange and Training (GREET)

In September 2018, Laura Wills, HRLC Researcher and Forced Migration Unit Member, joined the Academic Cooperation Association (ACA) and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in Brussels for the first peer learning (PLA) activity of their GREET Project. GREET is funded under the Horizon 2020 Science4Refugees call and aims to contribute to the integration of highly skilled refugees in European higher education.

This event brought together experts from nine European countries (Austria, Belgium, Germany, Finland, France, Norway, Sweden and the UK) to identify promising practices that facilitate the integration of highly skilled refugees in higher education institutions. Laura Wills moderated a breakout session regarding entering university as a refugee student. The session identified and addressed barriers faced by refugee students when entering the student cycle. Findings will be disseminated at the EU and national levels via a stakeholder meeting and webinars.

Publications, news and events

As one of the six research units within the HRLC, you can find all our unit publications, news and events on the publications, news and events pages.


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Human Rights Law Centre

School of Law
University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

+44 (0)115 846 8506