Event details
Event Start Date: 07/06/2017
Event End Date: 07/06/2017
Time: 12.30pm to 2pm

Location: UNSW Law Faculty, Staff Common Room, Level 2

Creating Safe Zones and Safe Corridors in Conflict Situations: Providing Protection at Home or Preventing the Search for Asylum?

Seven years into the Syrian conflict, more than 11 million people have been displaced by the violence. During the US election campaign, Donald Trump called for “a big beautiful safe zone” that would make Syrian refugees “happier”. In fact, a number of governments have considered whether creating “safe zones” in Syria would enable people to be protected closer to home, sparing them the risks that come from fleeing in search of asylum. Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has voiced serious doubts that so-called safe zones can provide real protection within Syria today.

The law concerning safe zones is underdeveloped, and history shows they can do more harm than good. To inform the global debate, the Kaldor Centre is launching a Policy Brief that considers the legal and practical preconditions for safe zones to be a humanitarian alternative.

To launch the Kaldor Centre Policy Brief ‘Creating Safe Zones and Safe Corridors in Conflict Situations: Providing Protection at Home or Preventing the Search for Asylum?’, the following three experts will debate whether “safe zones” are actually safe, and whether they may have the effect of preventing would-be refugees from seeking asylum elsewhere:

  • Geoff Gilbert, Professor of Law, University of Essex; Visiting Professor, UNSW Law; and affiliate member of the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law. Professor Gilbert is the author of the Kaldor Centre Policy Brief ‘Creating Safe Zones and Safe Corridors in Conflict Situations: Providing Protection at Home or Preventing the Search for Asylum?’.
  • Claire Elias, Director, Humanitarian Policy and Partnerships at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
  • Paul White, Senior Protection Officer, UN Interagency Protection Project – ProCap. Mr White has worked in many conflict situations throughout the world to protect civilians, including in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, Myanmar and Nepal.

This lunchtime event will be chaired by Kaldor Centre Director, Professor Jane McAdam.


Geoff Gilbert is a Professor of Law in the School of Law and Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex, and is an affiliate member of the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law. In 2012, he was appointed a Professorial Visiting Fellow at UNSW. He was Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Refugee Law from 2002-15; he is now Editor Emeritus and sits on the Advisory Board. His areas of interest are international criminal law, the protection of refugees and other displaced persons in international law, the protection of minorities in international law, international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

He was founding Director of Studies for UNHCR’s annual Thematic Refugees and Human Rights course for judges, government officials and UNHCR staff at the International Institute for Humanitarian Law, Sanremo, Italy, from 2005 to 2007. In 2014 he was appointed a consultant to UNHCR (with Anna Magdalena Rüsch) on the project Rule of Law: Engagement for Solutions and is part of the Solutions Alliance Thematic Group on Rule of Law.

His expertise has been sought by the UK Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, the UK Department for International Development, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. He has carried out human rights training on behalf of the Council of Europe and UNHCR in numerous countries. He has advised governments on their laws in Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the FSU, and was the Director of the OSCE training programme on combating torture for judges in Serbia and Montenegro. In 2009 he was elected a Bencher of the Middle Temple and was called in February 2010.

Claire Elias is Director of Humanitarian Policy & Partnerships at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, overseeing Australia’s partnerships with key humanitarian organisations including ICRC, UNHCR, WFP and UN OCHA, and prosecuting reform of the international humanitarian system. Prior to this she was Director of Humanitarian Response Operations and in this role managed Australia’s humanitarian Emergency Fund allocations globally, policy for protracted crises, disaster response systems, and health and protection for women and girls.

Claire’s diplomatic experience covers strategic and international security policy, and bilateral, regional and multilateral relations. Previously Claire was a negotiator for Australia on UN Security Council (during Australia’s term 2013-14) in New York focusing on counter-terrorism, violent extremism, and non-proliferation, including the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons program. Claire has contributed to multilateral frameworks, and negotiated for Australia on Arms Trade Treaty and the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons. Claire also served as Second Secretary at Australia’s High Commission to Malaysia (2005-08). 

Paul White is an Adelaide lawyer, working in international law since the 1990s. He worked for UNHCR in Asia, Geneva and Darfur, before becoming a Senior Protection Officer with the UN interagency Protection Project – ProCap (Protection Capacity).

In this role he works with UN agencies, such as UNICEF and UNHCR, to build local capacity and provide strategic advice – essentially working to protect civilians in countries experiencing conflict. Countries where he has been deployed include, Iraq, Dohuk (Kurdish Region of Iraq near the border of Syria and Turkey), South Sudan, Myanmar, Nepal, Uganda and Sudan.

Paul has recently returned from a deployment as Protection Adviser to the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis where he was based in UNOCHA.  He roved between  Amman Jordan, Gaziantep Turkey and other places working on the UN's cross-border protection response in opposition-held areas. He also travelled to Damascus Syria to assist the UN teams working with displaced people in government areas in Syria – where there are 6 million displaced persons. Among others issues, he worked on: children affected by armed conflict; sexual- and gender-based violence; mine action; civil documentation, and ensuring the inclusion of the most vulnerable beneficiaries in UN distributions.

The Kaldor Centre plays a vital role in developing legal, sustainable and humane solutions for displaced people around the world.