first asylum refugees

Let’s Try to Understand the Decisions of Refugees

By: Matthew Scott,

Matthew Scott

Matthew Scott

Head of Thematic Area Human Rights and the Environment


Matthew Scott is head of the Human Rights and the Environment thematic area at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Lund, Sweden.

His area of expertise lies in legal and policy responses to internal and cross-border displacement in the context of disasters and climate change. In this space, he has published a monograph with Cambridge University Press entitled Climate Change, Disasters and the Refugee Convention, an edited volume with Routledge entitled Climate Change, Disasters and Internal Displacement in Asia and the Pacific: A Human Rights-Based Approach, along with a range of book chapters and academic articles on the subject. He is a member of the advisory committee of the Platform on Disaster Displacement, a member of the editorial board of the Yearbook of International Disaster Law, and a founding member of the Nordic Network on Climate Related Displacement and Mobility, and the Gothenburg, Lund, Uppsala Migration Law Network. He holds a PhD in Public International Law from Lund University, and a Masters degree in Social Anthropology of Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

At Lund University, he convenes the Masters-level course on human rights law, the environment and climate change, and lectures on international refugee law and international human rights law at the law faculty. He also contributes to the MSc in Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation at the Department of Risk Management and Societal Safety.

Matthew is also actively engaged in international collaboration initiatives at the intersection of disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and displacement. In this capacity he is currently contributing technical expertise on human rights-based approaches relating to land use planning and emergency preparedness for response.

Read more about Matthew’s work here.

Selected publications

A Human Rights-Based Approach to Internal Displacement in the Context of Disasters and Climate Change (Refugee Survey Quarterly 2020)

Internal Displacement in the Context of Disasters and Climate Change in Asia Pacific: A Human Rights-Based Approach (Routledge 2020, in press) (with Albert Salamanca)

Climate Change, Disasters and the Refugee Convention (Cambridge University Press 2020)

Accountability for State Failures to Prevent Sexual Assault in Evacuation Centres and Temporary Shelters: A Human Rights-Based Approach (Routledge 2019)

Climate Refugees and the 1951 Convention (Elgar 2019)

Background Brief: Key International Standards and Guidelines Relating to Displacement in the Context of Disasters and Climate Change (Raoul Wallenberg Institute 2019)

Finding Agency in Adversity: Applying the Refugee Convention in the Context of Disasters and Climate Change (Refugee Survey Quarterly 2016)

A Role for Strategic Litigation (Forced Migration Review 2015)

Refuge from Climate Change-Related Harm: Evaluating the Scope of International Protection within the Common European Asylum System (Brill/Martinus Nijhoff 2015)

Natural Disasters, Climate Change and Non-Refoulement: What Scope for Resisting Expulsion under Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights? (International Journal of Refugee Law 2014)

Current Projects

ClimMobil: Judicial and policy responses to climate change-related mobility in the European Union with a focus on Austria and Sweden (2019-2022)

This project, supported by the Austrian Climate and Energy Fund, and in collaboration with the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Human Rights in Vienna, examines Swedish and Austrian judicial decisions in cases where disasters and other adverse impacts of climate change feature as part of the claim. The project sets out to improve understanding of judicial responses to claims for international protection in this context and to make recommendations that are relevant for domestic as well as wider European and international audiences, including policymakers.

Building Resilience to Disaster Risk (2018-2022)

This project, supported by the Swedish Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), is collaborative initiative between the Asia Disaster Preparedness Center, the Stockholm Environment Institute, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, and the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, that promotes and supports the identification and development of rights-based and gender equal approaches to disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation across Asia and the Pacific.

The Future of Human Rights (2020-2021)

This project, supported by the Pufendorf Institute at Lund University, brings together academics from a range of disciplines including law, disaster risk management, philosophy, sociology, and human geography to explore the future of human rights by exchanging perspectives on the origins and purpose of the concept and sharing insights across intersecting themes including migration, authoritarianism, and economic globalisation. These themes are framed against a backdrop of global social and ecological processes under umbrella concepts of digitalization and the Anthropocene. The project is designed to generate ideas and identify interconnections through multi-disciplinary collaboration.

Completed projects

Climate Change, Disasters and Internal Displacement in Asia and the Pacific: A Human Rights-Based Approach (2017-2020)

This project, supported by the Swedish Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), brought together researchers from ten countries across Asia and the Pacific to examine the relationship between international and national-level law and policy relating to displacement in the context of disasters and climate change, and the protection of people from and during displacement and the facilitation of durable solutions. Adopting a human rights-based approach, the research consolidated key international standards and guidelines relating to displacement in the context of disasters and climate change and developed a tool for systematically analysing national legal and policy frameworks. This desk research was complemented by field research that examined one particular instance of disaster displacement, identifying promising practices as well as challenges to the implementation of national and international standards. Key findings are contained in a series of national law and policy reports, submissions to international initiatives including the UN High Level Panel on Internal Displacement and the 2020 UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally-displaced persons consultation on displacement in the context slower onset adverse impacts of climate change, and academic publications including and edited volume and a contribution to the special edition on internal displacement published in the journal Refugee Survey Quarterly. More information about the project is available at

We recently convened a workshop on refugee decision-making in first countries of asylum in Istanbul with leading academics and researchers.

The concept of a first country of asylum is in itself problematic, as it suggests a degree of safety, including protection from refoulement, that may in fact not be guaranteed. The vast majority of the world’s refugees are in such ‘first countries of asylum’ as Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, where refugees may find some degree of safety in comparison with countries such as Afghanistan or Syria, even if this may not amount to ‘sufficient protection’.

Owing to a range of factors, some people do not remain in these first countries of asylum, but engage in what is called ‘secondary movement’. A clear example of secondary movement was when Syrians and others who had been in first countries of asylum in the region began moving onwards to Europe during 2015-2016. Secondary movements also occur between countries of the global south, but these are even less well-understood than south-north movements.

The purpose of this workshop was to launch an initiative to develop a better understanding of the kinds of factors that influence secondary movement and to gain insights into how refugees make decisions in first countries of asylum. This initiative ties in to one of the strategic priorities of the Institute’s People on the Move thematic area, which is enhancing the protection of people in first countries of asylum.

The workshop itself took place over 1.5 days, and consisted of a series of panel discussions and roundtables addressing theoretical approaches to refugee decision-making, gaining insights into some concrete situations based on empirical research including in Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon, and discussing different methodologies for improving understanding of decision-making at different stages of displacement. Roundtables invited participants with direct field experience to reflect on how a better understanding of refugee decision-making could improve protection, and preliminary discussions on how to develop a new research initiative in this area took place.

Although it is not possible to condense the multiple, at times stunning, insights gained in this workshop into a few final reflections, what does emerge quite clearly is an appreciation of the need for ever-more nuanced and granular insights from local level contexts that can nevertheless be aggregated in a way that can be operationalised by actors of protection working on more regional or global levels. A synergy between local insights, big data and robust theoretical models, together with better communication between field-level practitioners, universities, UN and other international agencies amongst others sounds like a big ask, but the research and networking initiative that we launched at this workshop certainly felt like one step in the right direction.

Also participating in the workshop from RWI were Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen, RWI’s Research Director; Yasar Abduh, RWI Programme Officer based in Amman; Ilhami Alkan Olsson, Chief Consultant, RWI in Turkey; and Seda Alp, Senior Programme Advisor, RWI Turkey.

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