One-On-One With a PhD Researcher


Amalia Sofia is a visiting researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute. She works as a PhD student and researcher at the Graduate Institute of Public Administration at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.

She is currently writing the parts of her PhD that have to do with the human rights aspect of migration management. Her plan is to collaborate and get feedback from researchers at the institute.

Where are you from?

I am from Switzerland, specifically from Ticino, the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland. However I studied in the French-speaking part and thereafter in the German-speaking area. I currently live and work in Lausanne, near Geneva.

Why did you want to study in different parts of Switzerland?

It wasn’t much of a choice as we don’t have many options for higher education in Ticino. Most of the young people from my hometown would move to another part of Switzerland to pursue their studies.

I chose the French-speaking part. It was very useful to have sort of a complete outlook on different linguistic regions of Switzerland, which is why I finished my studies with a semester in the German-speaking region, in Bern specifically.

Why did you choose RWI and Lund specifically for writing a part of your PhD?

There are two main reasons for that. One is that back home I mainly focus on public law in general, not specifically human rights. We have courses on constitutional law and fundamental rights but in a very constitutional law perspective. I wanted to find a place where I can really write the part of my PhD which has to do with human rights.

And secondly, it is because I work on the migration industry, which is connected to RWI since Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen, a world-renowned expert in this field, works here. I wanted to have the occasion to work with him and learn from his work.

Tell me more about your PhD project: migration management in a non-state actor context?

Immigration is classically apprehended as a state task. The idea of the migration industry literature is to include and represent the range of private actors who, often motivated by profit, engage in activities relating to human mobility. I focus on private companies dealing with migration control (detention, forced removal) in the European context. I am interested in how this form of governance is apprehended by the national administrative systems and how it relates to fundamental rights protection.

Is it a fun PhD study?

Well it is not particular fun, you have to read a lot of sad stories and you get very frustrated about how public service is implemented on some occasions, but of course you have to take into account that it is not easy for states to find solutions to both comply with international obligations and find a solution for the people coming in.

Also within the states themselves, often various ministries have different logics.

What are your first impressions of Lund and RWI?

I’m really enjoying my time in Lund. I have also been helped very effectively by the people who assist guest researchers at the Institute, and it was a very big plus that the university helped with the accommodation and everything.

I really enjoy being here at RWI, I like the fact that there are lots of profiles collaborating. I was expecting that but not to this extent. I think it is very nice to see people working on different projects and very concrete ones, as sometimes in academia you risk working with very abstract concepts while here you are always confronted with people who are doing groundwork.

What do you want to get out of this experience of working on your PhD here?

I would like to work here on the chapters that have to do with human rights standards so to take advantage of the knowledge and researchers here and get their feedback, which has been already helpful. Also the library of course – there is a well-furnished library here so I hope I will get home with those chapters written.

What general advice would you give for someone who wants to conduct PhD studies?

I won’t lie – it is a hard process. It’s full of ups and downs. Sometimes you feel immensely empowered, that you are on to something, while on the other side you have very low moments when you lose confidence in your work.

At the end it’s very rewarding – not only the title but the whole process can be very rewarding. You have to be consistent and have your goals set precisely.

What are your future goals workwise?

Well, first of all I need to finish my PhD – that’s my focus for now. My childhood dream was to work for the Swiss government, maybe in the diplomatic corps or in foreign relations. But now I see all the different possibilities that institutions like this one can offer. I don’t think I will pursue an academic career, but I hope that I can find a place where I can put my research skills to use. Maybe journalism also. Lots of opportunities but first of all I need to defend my thesis.