HKS Authors

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Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, HSPH; Jeremiah Smith Jr. Lecturer in Law, HLS


Forced migration of refugees or trafficked persons has emerged as one of the critical human rights issues of our time. One aspect of this issue has generated increasing international political and legal concern but has not received adequate scholarly attention: how effective are the legal mechanisms that seek to protect child asylum seekers who are separated from their families because of persecution or trafficking? This question underpins a new, international research project being launched at Harvard University in conjunction with the University of Sydney in Australia and collaborators in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The project is funded by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Preliminary research supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees has already been started in Germany, Austria, Sweden and Norway. The project will explore how the asylum adjudication system within the three countries studied maps its international legal obligations under the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees onto its domestic decisions. It will analyze the meaning and application of the “best interests of the child” principle as it applies to both the process and the outcome of the asylum determination system. It will examine how the populations of trafficked and separated child asylum applicants compare between different countries, in terms of nationality of origin, age and gender distribution, and nature of claims. The results of the research will be contributed to a database of decisions on child asylum cases (with precedents and sample pleadings). Roll out meetings with policy makers, NGOs and advocates are envisaged as part of the dissemination of the findings in future.


Bhabha, Jacqueline. "Seeking Asylum Alone: Treatment of Separated and Trafficked Children in Need of Refugee Protection." KSG Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP04-014, March 2004.