Securing refugee protection in practice


This module explores the concept and practice of ‘protection’ as an activity of humanitarian actors, as well as the challenges associated with this practice.

Topics covered

  • What is meant by the term ‘protection’ and continuing efforts towards professionalising humanitarian protection in general, and refugee protection in particular
  • The range of skills required by the practitioners of refugee protection in diverse contexts
  • How refugee protection is approached by international organisations, and how it feeds into humanitarian coordination mechanisms at national, regional and global levels
  • How the growing call for the accountability of humanitarian actors translates into standards, indicators of performance and impact, and other programming tools
  • Practical ‘protection skills’ such as lobbying, media, campaigning, fundraising and monitoring work in the refugee field.

Learning outcomes

The module focuses on developing a firm appreciation of the factors that influence how protection actors behave and the practical strategies through which such behaviour may be influenced. You will learn to build, deploy and defend sound pragmatic arguments evaluating different theoretical approaches to influencing the behaviour of states and other key refugee protection actors, and demonstrate competence in practical skills such as fundraising and project evaluation.


This elective module is assessed via a 3,000-word project proposal, which comprises 70% of the overall grade, and three online assessments (E-tivities), which make up 30% of the overall grade.

Module team

Dr Sarah Deardoff Miller, module convenor

Dr Sarah Deardoff Miller - Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies

Sarah received her doctorate in international relations at Oxford University in 2014, where she focused on the role of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in protracted refugee situations. Her research interests include the politics of forced migration, protracted refugee situations, international humanitarian organisations and global governance.

She has worked with various United Nation and nongovernmental organisations in Africa and Asia, and has worked and published with think tanks and research institutions in the USA and Europe. In 2015 she was a Franklin Fellow at the US Department of State, and she is now a Senior Fellow at Refugees International and adjunct faculty at Georgetown University.

Emily Arnold-Fernández

Emily Arnold-Fernández - Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies

Emily Arnold-Fernández is the President and CEO of Asylum Access, the leading global refugee human rights organisation. Emily founded Asylum Access in 2005 to create a world where refugees can live safely, move freely, work and send children to school, and rebuild their lives. Today, Asylum Access has impacted more than two million refugees worldwide, working intensively in six countries as well as at the global level to dismantle barriers to refugees’ economic and civic participation and ensure all refugees have a fair chance at a new life.

Emily’s achievements have earned her numerous accolades. These include Equality and Non-Discrimination Award from Mexico’s National Council to Prevent Discrimination (2016) | The prestigious Grinnell Prize (2013) | Wasserstein Fellowship at Harvard Law School (2013) | California Young Lawyers Association Jack Berman Award of Achievement for Distinguished Service to the Profession and the Public (2011) | Recognition by the Dalai Lama as one of 50 ‘Unsung Heroes of Compassion’ (2009).

Emily was selected as a Social Entrepreneur in Residence at Stanford University in the Autumn of 2012, and has served on the Advisory Board of the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University. She holds a Juris Doctorate (JD) from Georgetown University Law Center and a Bachelor of Arts cum laude from Pomona College.

Jessica Therkelsen MA RPFMS tutor

Jessica Therkelsen - Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies

Jessica is a human rights lawyer with many years of experience advocating for the rights of refugees and immigrants around the world. As the Director of the Pro Bono Justice Program at OneJustice, she mobilises thousands of volunteer lawyers to protect refugees and immigrants in the United States.

Previously as Global Director of Advocacy and Communications at Asylum Access, Jessica worked closely with local human rights leaders in the USA, Ecuador, Tanzania, Thailand and Malaysia to promote systems, laws and policies that help refugees build a new life. Jessica received her JD and Honors Certificate in International Law from USF Law, and her BA from the University of California, Irvine. She was named one of the American Bar Association’s 2016 Top 40 Young Lawyers on the Rise.

Jean-François Durieux tutor MA: RPFMS

Jean-François Durieux - Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies

Jean-François, holds a Law Degree from the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium). He has taught international human rights and refugee law at the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford (between 2007 and 2012). In 2011, he completed a long career with UNHCR, which included various positions and legal advice, policy and management responsibilities at the Geneva headquarters.

In the 1990s, Jean-François published the findings of his ‘operational’ research on some of the challenges faced by UNHCR in Central America, East Africa and the other regions in which he worked. In recent years, his research interest has focused on legal responses to mass influxes of refugees, including a comparison of African and European regimes; the ethics of asylum; the concept and measurement of humanitarian protection; and the legal implications of refugee emergencies and protracted refugee situations.

He has organised and run seminars and short courses on the law of forced displacement, statelessness and the cross-fertilisation of refugee law, human rights law and international humanitarian law, including within the dedicated training programme of the International Institute of Humanitarian Law (Sanremo, Italy), which he directed from 2014 to 2016. He serves as senior adviser to the international team that plans to develop and publish a worldwide Refugee Response Index.