Ongoing and concluded PhDs

PhD researcher or student information

Damla Gundogdu

Discipline: Law

Degrees BA: Dokuz Eylul University, Law School


Queen Mary University of London

PhD Research Information

Rethinking Voluntary Repatriation in International Law

Brief description:

In the 21st century, mainly because of the increasing number of armed conflicts and violations of fundamental human rights in several states, the forced displacement rate is at the highest level ever recorded. [1] UNHCR report in 2015 described the 21st century as “an age of unprecedented mass displacement”.[2] Usually, the mass displacement results in the prolonged refugee situation in host states lacking some fundamental human rights. In 2016 with New York Declaration, 193 states agreed that a considerable part of world refugees lack any durable and timely solution under international law protection. [3]
Therefore, there is an obvious need to rethink durable solutions in international law for refugees; and assess whether the existing solutions are practical and sustainable per 21st century conditions. According to the UNHCR, there are three traditional solutions to solve refugee flow durably: integration in the country of asylum, resettlement in a third country and voluntary repatriation to the country of origin. [4] Moreover, the Global Compact on Refugees, one of the latest resources in the international refugee law, includes complementary pathways for admission to third countries and other local solutions under the title of the solution. [5] Despite increased solutions today, since the law mentioned for the first time for refugees, repatriation of refugees to their hometowns has been seen as the permanent and ideal solution for the interest of refugees and the host states. [6]
However, armed conflicts last more than 10 years[7], and according to UNHCR, the average duration of displacement lasts more than 20 years. [8] The necessity for effective and fair international burden and responsibility-sharing is more extreme than at any point in recent history. [9] Thus, sustainability of the voluntary repatriation is controversial under the drastically changed conditions of the refugee context in the 21st century.
Consequently, the main research question that this research is concerned with is:
How can a viable and effective voluntary repatriation be re-established and implemented in accordance with the 21st-century factors of refugeehood under international law?
To address this question, the research intends to address the following sub-research questions:
What is the legal foundation of voluntary repatriation?
What are the requirements of viable and effective voluntary repatriation in the 21st century?
What lessons can be drawn from past and present voluntary repatriation practices to introduce and implement a viable and effective voluntary repatriation regime?
Consistent with the main research question, the thesis aims to provide a guideline to members of the international community that wish to participate in a sustainable and durable voluntary repatriation regime under international law, in line with the changed conditions in the 21st century.
This research is divided into three parts;
Part 1. Voluntary Repatriation in International Law
Voluntary repatriation is a global and complex subject area with a long history. Therefore, firstly Part 1 examines the meanings of voluntary repatriation in the past 70 years and explains why voluntary repatriation is more than ever necessary. Moreover, lessons are drawn from the past, challenges for today and expectations from the future are analysed.
There is no internationally specific convention about voluntary repatriation and substantive customs directly related to voluntary repatriation, unlike the international legal refugee protection regime created in 1951. Voluntary repatriation directly or indirectly falls within various legal instruments belonging to different branches of international law, including International Refugee Law, International Humanitarian Law, and International Human Rights Law. Thus secondly, it focuses on clarifying the legal framework of voluntary analysing if the current instrument responds to the issues of voluntary repatriation in the 21st century.
Finally, voluntary repatriation and its components will be analysed before repatriation, due to repatriation and after repatriation. It is argued that a viable and sustainable voluntary repatriation covers the process before and after the physical movement and means beyond crossing borders.
Part 2. An Analysis of Voluntary Repatriation Practices:
Part 2 focuses on the case studies chosen from three different countries. Under this part, topic-specific prepared interviews and surveys will be conducted with officer of related institutions of host countries, actors of NGOs in host countries and refugees to analyse elements of viable and sustainable voluntary repatriation for changed conditions of the 21st century. Data from interviews and surveys provide the evaluation opportunity from main different actors’ perspectives of voluntary repatriation. Furthermore, working with three various case studies can give a chance to compare data with each other practically.
Therefore, in this part, data from interviews and surveys will critically be analysed after giving a comprehensive overview of the case studies.
Thus, this research will allow establishing a joint base for voluntary repatriation by considering the interests of all actors. Finally, this section will analyse gaps, failing policies, and success in practice. Consequently, the challenges and risks of establishing the voluntary repatriation programme will be illustrated in detail. Comparative learning from case studies will lead to the preparation of up-to-date guidelines.
Part 3. The Guideline on Voluntary Repatriation
Part 3 aims to introduce viable and effective voluntary repatriation guidance to the international community under the global law framework in the 21st century. Firstly, it will
synthesise a comprehensive examination of voluntary repatriation in Part 1 and a comparative analysis of the case studies in practice in Part 2. Secondly, under international law, the principal elements will be illustrated for re-establishing and implementing viable and sustainable voluntary repatriation in the 21st century. Thirdly, considering the challenges and risks of voluntary repatriation in the 21st century, remedies will be suggested under the international law framework.
Consequently, this research will give a substantive and up-to-date guideline to re-establish and implement viable and effective voluntary repatriation by coping with the challenges of the 21st century under international law.

[1] UNHCR, ‘Global Trends Forced Displacement in 2021’ (15 June 2022) accessed 18 June 2022.
[2] UNHCR, ‘Worldwide displacement hits all-time high as war and persecution increase’ (18 June 2015) <> accessed 9 August 2020.
[3] United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, UN Doc. A/RES/71/1, 19 Sep. 2016, para. 3.

[4] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2007, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (2007) <> accessed 18.08.2020.
[5] UNHCR, Global Compact on Refugees, UNGA res. 73/151, Part II (17 December 2018) <> accessed 9 August 2020.
[6] Guy S. Goodwin-Gill, ‘The Lawyer and the Refugee’ (29 February 2020) <> accessed 9 August 2019.
[7] Geoff Gilbert and Anna Magdalena Rüsch, ‘Rule of Law and United Nations Interoperability’ (2018) 30 International Journal of Refugee Law 31. p 5, 33.
[8] UNHCR Refugees, ‘Refworld | Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015’ (Refworld 2015) <> accessed 23 August 2020.
[9] Volker Türk and Madeline Garlick, ‘From Burdens and Responsibilities to Opportunities: The Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework and a Global Compact on Refugees’ (2016) 28 International Journal of Refugee Law 665.


Methodology and Originality of the Thesis This research has sought to advance and timely contribute to the literature to give a substantive and up-to-date guideline to re-establish and implement viable and effective voluntary repatriation in accordance with the 21st-century factors of refugeehood under international law. Therefore, this research adopts a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. The qualitative research method is applied to investigate voluntary repatriation in international law. Deductive, inductive, and analogy methods are used to examine the comprehensive legal literature review. The research utilises an approach that associates with various branches of international law, such as International Refugee Law, International Human Rights Law, and International Humanitarian Law. Particularly inclusive interpretation method is pursued by analysing legal resources of voluntary repatriation. The quantitative research method will be based on the case studies chosen from a minimum of three countries. Firstly, a survey with open-ended and close-ended questions will be conducted on a biased sample of refugees in selected case study countries. Statistical Package for the Social Sciences Programme (SPSS) will technically be used to analyse data from surveys. Secondly, elite interviews will be conducted with the authorised persons from official related institutions and NGO actors in host countries. The interview respondent sample will include several elites from associated institutions within the policy-making mechanism and representatives from active non-governmental organisations. The interviews consist of semi-structured questions and will be analysed by the thematic analyse method. NVivo Qualitative Data Analysis Software can be used for technically analysing data from interviews. There are some critical challenges in conducting this research. First and foremost, the challenge is the dynamic DNA of voluntary repatriation. Since voluntary repatriation has different characteristics depending on the conditions of the state of origin and host states, addressed issues can differ for every voluntary repatriation scenario. Moreover, there are no international standards for voluntary repatriation. [1] The Second challenge is coping with unclear obstacles in the country of origin and host state to conduct the survey and interview and convince the refugees to attend surveys. The final challenge is the complex and global subject of voluntary repatriation, which involve humanitarian, legal, political, psychological, and sociological areas. Thus, sometimes distinguishing others from legal aspects can be complicated. Synthesis of theoretical part conducted with qualitative research methods and practical part carrying with quantitative research methods provide a significant opportunity to demonstrate principal elements of viable and effective voluntary repatriation critically. Interviews and surveys in different countries and various voluntary return scenarios will give a comparative analysis opportunity with up-to-date data. In this aspect, this research could be one of the expanded empirical research to determine an effective and viable voluntary repatriation regime. It will support future research on voluntary repatriation using current data and comparative information. Moreover, the adoption of three-dimensional approaches regarding voluntary repatriation for refugees, NGOs, and host states will provide an academic opportunity to evaluate three significant actors’ expectations of voluntary repatriation. They will create an indirect negotiation platform for viable and effective voluntary repatriation. From this point of view, this research will originally contribute to the literature on international refugee law. Although comprehensive research provides significant contributions to voluntary repatriation, they are insufficient to fill the gap targeted by this research. For instance, in 2015, Kosher and Kuschminder produced one of the most comprehensive and empirical reports, including the latest development regarding voluntary repatriation. [10]. However, their report does not cover refugees, and the focal point of the information is not based on international law. Another significant contribution was Bradley’s book, published in 2014. Although it initially focused on the international law aspect of voluntary repatriation, it is restricted explicitly by responsibility and redress, which is only one dimension of voluntary repatriation. [2] There is much significant research based on the fundamental studies in the 1990s [3]; nevertheless, they are far from responding to current concerns in international refugee law, even though they serve as the basis of existing literature on voluntary repatriation. Compared to other academic areas interested in voluntary repatriation, such as sociology, political science, and international relations, recent international law under-researches voluntary repatriation. However, it is compulsory to provide solutions to the refugee crisis. Therefore, there is a vast research gap regarding up-to-date research regarding a viable and effective voluntary repatriation in accordance with the 21st-century factors of refugeehood in international law literature. References [1] Khalid Kosher and Katie Kuschminder, Comparative Research on the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration of Migrants (IOM 2015). [2] Megan Bradley, Refugee repatriation: justice, responsibility and redress (CUP 2013) 89. [3] Kosher K. and Black R. The End of the Refugee Cycle?: Refugee Repatriation and Reconstruction (Berghahn Books, 1998) 13; James C Hattaway,’ The meaning of repatriation, International Journal of Refugee’ (1997) Law Vol. 9 No. 4, Oxford University Press, p.552; Guy S. Goodwin-Gill, ‘Closing Address Principles and Protection: Making it Work in the Modern World’ (June 1999)

Keywords: international law, UNHCR, voluntary repatriation, Refugees, prolonged asylum, armed conflict, mass influx, global compact on refugees, burden and responsibility sharing, conditions of 21st century

Language(s) of writing: English

Country: UK

Home University:

University of Essex


Law School

Supervisor: Geoff Gilbert
Start date: 13-01-2020
PhD current status: PhD Ongoing
PhD research funded by: Ministry of National Education (Turkey)
Name of grant: YLSY scholarship
Added to catalogue on: 19-06-2022

Additional information:

Dear Team, I am a PhD student who aims to be a specialist in migration and asylum law. When I was in university as an undergrad, the Syrian crisis broke out, and millions of people from Syria fled to Turkey as asylum seekers. This dramatic situation affected me very profoundly as a young law student. I started to voluntarily help asylum seekers in the Migration Commission of Izmir Bar. I always wanted to play a role in improving migrants’ and refugees’ rights academically and in practice at the national and international levels as a human, lawyer and academic. Therefore, I decided to establish my academic career in international refugee and migration law. I was working as a research assistant at the international law department of Suleyman Demirel Law School in Tukey. Therefore, I experienced assisting professors and giving lectures in various branches of international law, including international refugee law. I worked for International Centre for Migration Policy Development’s (ICMPD) project in Turkey to closely understand different aspects of international migration and the refugee context. I got a scholarship from the Ministry of National Education (Turkey) because of my success in very competitive various desk-based exams and interviews. Through this scholarship, I could continue my academic career in the UK. I did my LLM at Queen Mary University of London and my dissertation on responsibility-sharing in international refugee law under the supervision of Prof Elspeth Guild. I took modules that consisted of international human rights law, international refugee law, and international migration law, developed my knowledge and skills and graduated with a merit degree. For the whole of my academic career, I have always participated in academic activities (conferences, symposiums, seminars, and club activities). As mentioned on my CV, I already have experience with debates from debating club and group work and presentations from projects. Nowadays, my PhD focuses on voluntary repatriation in international law. I have got significant opportunities to understand my field and improve different perspectives under the supervision of Prof Geoff Gilbert. I audited his master’s LLM lessons for one term. I got work experience on the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)-Turkey project while I was doing my PhD. Although I am a third-year PhD student, the progress of my research was affected negatively due to the Covid-19 Pandemic since I had to stay in my home town (Turkey, due to government policy) for roughly one year. I want to attend Odysseus Academic Network SUMMER SCHOOL PhD Seminar on EU Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy. It would be a good opportunity for me to collaborate with other PhD participants with similar research areas and simultaneously learn and experience considerable new knowledge and skills. Moreover, presenting my PhD project and receiving feedback from a panel of Odysseus Members, including various significant specialists in my area, would be very important for my academic progress. I believe that taking part in Odysseus Academic Network Summer School PhD Seminar on EU Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy would make me stand in an excellent position for the progress of my PhD and academic career. However, I could not afford this summer school fee or even the application deposit. I am affording my PhD tuition fee and living expenses through a Scholarship from the Ministry of National Education (Turkey). However, the amount of Scholarships granted has been the same since 2016 despite the highest inflation level we have ever faced. I have no other income or financial support, and this scholarship did not include conference fees. I am already financially struggling to afford my living expenses in London with this scholarship which does not consider inflation. Therefore, due to financial shortcomings, I do not want to miss this gorgeous opportunity for my career and academic development. I need your financial support to attend. I firmly believe that a person with practical and academic experiences in Turkey, which is the largest refugee-hosting country and has successful academic experience like mine, would be highly beneficial to your summer school. I would appreciate it if you gave me an opportunity by scholarship or PhD grant. I would be distraught if I could not get this gorgeous summer school opportunity due to my financial shortcomings. Sincerely Sincerely Damla Gundogdu