Asylum Decision-Making in the Context of the Eritrean Military/National Service: Persecution amounting to Slavery?

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Law


In order to be entitled to protection under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol (hereinafter "1951 Refugee Convention"), asylum applicants must fall within the definition of "refugee" in its article 1A(2), that is, they must demonstrate a "well-founded fear of being persecuted" for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. The 1951 Refugee Convention, however, does not elaborate on the notion of "persecution", and there exists no specialised treaty body capable of providing a binding interpretation of the provisions of the 1951 Refugee Convention (only the International Court of Justice in the case of an inter-state dispute). Therefore, the refugee definition in article 1A(2) is subject to domestic judicial interpretation. This, coupled with other factors, has led to conflicting interpretations of "persecution" within the specific context of the Eritrean Military/National Service by asylum decision-makers in various European states.

Against this background, my PhD project focuses on critically analysing whether the Eritrean Military/National service could be conceptualised as "persecution" (within the meaning of Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Refugee Convention) in refugee status determination proceedings. In doing so, my research assesses the interface between international refugee law and other branches of international law such as international human rights law, international humanitarian law and international criminal law and how these distinct areas of law are applied, if at all, by national asylum decision-makers in Europe in giving content to the legal concept of "persecution". The research combines the study of primary and secondary legal sources, policy and practice. As such, besides library-based research, it also includes overseas fieldwork research. This fieldwork research comprises semi-structured interviews with refugee sector stakeholders, including asylum lawyers and NGO representatives, in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden (which are among the major recipients of Eritrean asylum applications in Europe); interviews and FGDs with Eritrean refugees and asylum-seekers; and discussions with members of civil society organisations.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000711/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1927756 Studentship ES/P000711/1 01/10/2017 30/12/2021 Sara Palacios Arapiles
Description Sara Palacios Arapiles participated as a speaker in a training course on international protection to legal aid lawyers joining the newly formed Asylum Unit at the Bar Association of Salamanca (Spain) (26 and 27 June 2019)
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact I delivered, alongside a Protection Associate from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Spain and representatives of various local/national NGOs, a training course on international protection to legal aid lawyers joining the newly formed Asylum Unit at the Bar Association of Salamanca (Spain) (26 and 27 June 2019). This course was compulsory to those lawyers from the Bar Association of Salamanca wishing to practice asylum law and be part of the Asylum Unit. My presentation covered the EU Directives and Regulations comprising the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) as well as relevant jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights. The power point presentation covering the main topics I presented was made available to the Bar Association of Salamanca and the lawyers that attended the training.
Description Sara Palacios Arapiles' PhD project involves an element of collaboration with a non-Midlands Graduate School Doctoral Training Partnership DTC institution - Europe External Policy Advisors (EEPA) - throughout my PhD process. 
Organisation Europe External Policy Advisors (EEPA)
Country Belgium 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution As per our Studentship Agreement, beyond EEPA's contribution to my PhD project, I assist EEPA's advisory work towards European institutions, asylum decision-makers, policy-makers, lawyers, and other stakeholders in Europe through e.g. legal briefs (where my work/contribution is duly acknowledged). I also contribute towards some of EEPA's activities, such as the organisation of conferences and related events relevant to the organisation that relates to my research topic and I will participate as a speaker at seminars and related events where EEPA is also involved where I will disseminate the preliminary findings resulting form my fieldwork trips.
Collaborator Contribution EEPA brings specific expertise about resources, people and sector knowledge. EEPA is a Brussels-based centre of expertise and research on the EU's external policies directed by Professor Mirjam van Reisen. The Centre works on a wide variety of subjects relating to the external policies of the European Union (EU), including legal frameworks, budgets and programmes. Its current main focus is on EU's asylum policy, particularly that dealing with flows of refugees from and in the Horn of Africa region. They have published several books, expert reports and policy briefs on this topic. EEPA also organises conferences, and participates in events and public hearings both in Europe, notably at EU institutions and the UN Human Rights Council, and in Africa. During the period where I conduct overseas fieldwork (November 2019 - April 2020), I am based at EEPA's office in Brussels, which is located in the heart of the European Quarter/District - an area of Brussels containing a concentration of pan-European institutions (notably, those of the European Union and Council of Europe), NGOs, International Organisations and Think Tanks. EEPA offers me office space and facilitates my fieldwork including access to respondents in various European countries. In addition to this, during my stay at EEPA, I contribute to EEPA's current research project 'EU-Africa response to human trafficking and mixed migration flows' and related advisory and advocacy activities resulting from it. Through this contribution, I have gained valuable experience working within an international research environment and expanded my network of contacts. This collaboration has also strengthened my understanding of policy-making processes and the relevance of research to these processes; equiped me with the necessary skills to be able to present findings to the public, particularly in a policy friendly manner; and deepened my understanding of the impact of research on the wider society. This, in turn, will ensure that my research generates greater impact both instrumental and conceptual.
Impact I contributed to a briefing that outlined the implications of returning Eritrean asylum-seekers to Italy under the EU Dublin Regulation, which was addressed to policy- and law-makers in the Netherlands. I will participate, along with EEPA's staff members, as a speaker at seminar organised by the Globalization, Accessibility, Innovation and Care (GAIC) Network of Tilburg University on 'Re-thinking migration and refugee protection towards Europe: Case studies from Libya, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes' at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam (The Hague) on 15 April 2020. Programme available at: I am writing a book chapter where I report data gathered from my fieldwork trips for one of EEPA's forthcoming books on Human Trafficking in Africa (publisher Langaa).
Start Year 2018
Description Sara Palacios Arapiles presented a paper at an international conference on forced migration at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria (South Africa) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact I presented a paper entitled 'Unfolding Africa's Impact on the Development of International Refugee Law' at Beyond 50 and 10, Beyond the Rhetoric: International conference on the protection of forced migrants in Africa, at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa (6 and 7 September 2019). The conference brought together academics and practitioners to critically examine the extent to which the instruments on forced migration in Africa, namely the OAU Convention on the Specific Problems of Refugees in Africa and the AU Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, meaningfully address forced migration at the regional, sub regional and national level in Africa. My paper explored the contributions of African States and the African regional human rights system to the progressive development of international refugee law, and more broadly the extent to which supervisory bodies entrusted with human rights protection within the African human rights system have enriched international refugee law. My participation in the conference was fully sponsored by the University of Pretoria.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Sara Palacios Arapiles was interviewed for the blog 'In 1000 Words' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was interviewed by Dr Daniel R. Mekonnen, an international lawyer and Director (in exile) of the Eritrean Law Society.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020