PROTECT is by far the most adventurous of the projects that I have led. PROTECT’s research activities started on 1 February 2020 and ended on 30 April 2023. We are now in the process of preparing our final administrative and financial reports for the European Commission.

PROTECT’s kick-off conference was on 9-10 March 2020 in Brussels. Because of Covid-19 mobility restrictions imposed close to these dates, many of us were quarantined upon return to our countries from Brussels. Long-lasting mobility restrictions necessitated changes in our fieldwork methods, communication and dissemination methods, and internal collaboration. We literally moved to online platforms. Thanks to PROTECT partners’ creative and committed efforts, and a whole lot of extra work by them, we achieved the objectives of the project and reached beyond.

PROTECT researchers met in person at the kick-off and final conferences as well as at two other conferences that took place in Toronto and Brussels. On the other hand, our online life enabled us to meet bi-weekly, and occasionally even weekly, something which was not part of the original plans. In our frequent internal seminars, we presented and discussed our research in progress. This was extremely useful in creating interactions and synergy between the work packages and discovering new transversal issues that were not foreseen. While we missed the rich expressiveness of face-to-face communication, moving online exponentially increased our internal communication intensity and the number of external target groups that we reached.

PROTECT benefited from the knowledge and skills of more than 50 scientists at 12 partner universities as well as a large group of people from other universities, international organizations, state and local authorities, and non-governmental organizations, who supported our activities in different ways. What you see in our research outputs is a combination of pre-existing and new knowledge that goes way beyond the confines of PROTECT.

Our research has been massive, rich, and novel. We produced around 100 written outputs, 80 of which are substantial academic outputs – that is, journal articles, book chapters, long essays, scientific reports, policy briefs. 15 of these are already published on international open-access channels while the rest are either being reviewed by journals or being prepared for review by our researchers. We used the conceptual and methodological tools of the disciplines of international law, law, political science, history, sociology, anthropology, ethnography, communication and media studies, and computational social science. Most importantly, our interdisciplinary approaches did not only result in new findings but also discoveries that open new avenues of research and policymaking on the topic of international protection. PROTECT’s groundbreaking results also have important policy implications. The main policy implications are:

  1. the main challenge of international refugee protection is a global struggle between two ideological visions: the citizen-alien paradigm and the human-rights paradigm
  2. although the 1951 Geneva Convention requires the international protection system to be exempt from the citizen-alien approach of today’s inter-state system, there has been a clear turn towards the citizen-alien approach because of a series of a democratic backslidings, financial crises, and a public health emergency
  3. this necessitates a transformation of the current international protection system back to the 1951 Geneva Convention’s human rights paradigm
  4. such transformation can be realized through legal and institutional reforms that aim to divorce national and regional (e.g., European) refugee protection laws, institutions, procedures and discourses from migration, security, public order, and border entry policies, including the migration and mobility measures foreseen in the EU’s international agreements on migration and mobility with third countries
  5. provided that they are further developed as outlined in our research, the Global Refugee Compact on Refugees and the Global Refugee Compact on Migration can provide excellent incentives and tools for realizing the much-needed transition towards the human rights-paradigm in international refugee protection
  6. such a transition is feasible because it has an overwhelming support among citizens, endorsement in social media, although it is contested in traditional national media, not least because the citizen support is not likely to change in a foreseeable future since its determinants are historically rooted factors that change very slowly unless a sudden, historically significant globe-wide juncture occurs.

PROTECT’s Final Comparative Study and its Final Policy Brief present and explain these findings in more detail. We have also published theme-specific policy briefs, short theme-specific policy briefs, and condensed reports of our results for those of our followers who may need to have a quick overview before delving into the specifics of our research. Our research publications on which these are based, have been made available to the public. Our databases have also been opened for public use at a public data repository, following FAIR principles.

We organized 3 international conferences, 6 expert forums for scientists and practitioners of international law, 6 feedback sessions for actors and refugees at border entry points, two joint end-user conferences with other Horizon 2020-funded consortia, many country-specific webinars, and participated and contributed to numerous conferences, workshops, and seminars that were organized by others. A list of our selected activities can be found on our website. In addition, we have produced numerous promotional impact material like blogs, vlogs, press releases, media appearances and interviews, social media posts, promotion animations, newsletters, and the like. We were highly visible on social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube as well as on conventional media platforms.

With these activities, we aimed at one final impact: to reach the relevant stakeholders with high-quality, cutting-edge knowledge on how to bring the international protection system closer to high international human-rights standards. I believe we have managed to achieve this goal. Our results and policy recommendations were communicated during in-person encounters with norm-giving scientists, high-level decision-makers of the United Nations, European Union, governments, local authorities, and influential non-state organizations. Their responses revealed that they had read and understood our work. They also stated clearly which parts of our research results are useful for their work and how they would use them. And some politicians even said they would use our findings to achieve other, even opposite, normative goals than what we devised them for, e.g., for protecting their countries against migrant and refugee flows rather than introducing PROTECT ‘s human-rights perspective. In other words, PROTECT’s normative orientation in favor of a human-rights perspective has not been an impediment for communicating with target groups holding divergent political opinions.

Finally, our followers on different platforms have indeed been our loudest and earnest supporters. We made hundreds of friends like many of the readers of this newsletter throughout our 39-month long journey. We benefited immensely from your participation in our activities and comments on our outputs. We are truly grateful for your support. We hugely appreciate, and we are honored by, your interest in what we are doing. We will be producing new academic outputs in the coming months. Although this is our final newsletter, our social media channels remain open and active as long as we see you there, and we will continue posting about our new publications and activities. As a foretaste, I can mention a forthcoming end-user conference in Oslo this autumn and a PROTECT panel on 14-16 September at the annual conference of the Italian Political Science Association (SISP) in Genoa.

For the time being, farewell and see you on social media from now on. Do not hesitate to drop a “hello” if you happen to see us at a conference!

By Hakan G. Sicakkan
Professor and PROTECT’s Project Leader