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Imaginaries of Law, Borders and Rights:
Forced Migrant Voices of Change

Phd in
Law and Development

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Trial Lecture 

In preparation for my PhD defence at the University of Oslo and Tilburg University, I was asked to prepare an additional trial lecture to assess my ability to take in new information and present it as a public lecture. This topic was not related to my joint doctorate in law and development but had some thematic overlap. The specific topic was provided by the jury 10 days prior. This lecture served as a pivotal step in my PhD journey, determining my progression to the defence. 

1st of March Trial Lecture: "What can an autonomy of migration (AoM) approach offer to research at the intersection of law and migration studies?" invites a reflective exploration into how researchers the interdisciplinary potential of law and migration studies. I sought to explain how AoM can enrich our understanding of migration to move beyond discussions of flows of people: seeing it instead as a complex phenomenon intertwined with systems of violence and injustice, and see those who migrate as potential actors of social change. I ask researchers to be epistemically disobedient and to research with those who are excluded by borders and seek social change.  

Ph.D Defence Law and Development

My upcoming PhD defence at the University of Oslo and Tilburg University, as part of a joint doctorate in law and development, will critically examine the intersection of legal frameworks and the lived experiences of forced migrants in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Focusing on the transformative power of voice in the face of systemic violence and bordering practices, the defence will highlight how participatory action research has uncovered new perspectives on rights, agency, and social justice for marginalized communities. This defence represents the final step of an intensive journey of exploring participatory methodologies, research and participant traumas, and co-creating narratives with displaced communities. It is scheduled on the 6th March.

Stories of Borders, Violence and Voices

Embark on a journey through 'Polity', a city symbolising the bordered landscape of Kuala Lumpur, where forced migrants navigate a life shadowed by illegality.


My thesis delves into the imaginary yet violent nature of borders, examining how they shape lives, agencies, and rights. Through the participatory action research, I engaged with the transformative power of voice, as trauma is reshaped into words, calling for change.

This transdisciplinary study voices the narratives of Afghan, Rohingya, Somali, and Syrian community leaders as actors of community development.


Employing a magical realist narrative, my thesis portrays their resilience and resistance against the socio-politico-legal borders.


Explore how these narratives challenge traditional human rights approaches, advocating for community-driven change and envisioning new paradigms of social justice. Importantly, I support the notion of development, not being understood as ever-increasing economic growth, but rather the process of ending injustice. 

'the floating city' by refugee artist Mohammed Soleymani 


Unheard Voices: The Role of Forced Migrants in Development

Empowerment Amidst Constraints
Forced migrants often remain unseen as agents of development. This section explores how their resilience and empowerment are shaped by legal frameworks, especially in contexts like Malaysia, a non-signatory to the Geneva Refugee Convention.

Social Change and Borders
These forced migrant leaders live in prolonged urban displacement and face borders in their daily lives. They draw on all available resources to drive social change to support their communities - access to education, healthcare and information. Their narratives weave through their life experiences, shedding light on community-led theories of change and potential policy impacts.

Voices Leading the Way
The voices of these migrants paint a vivid picture of their struggles and impact, offering unique insights into community-driven development and policy-making.


My fieldwork embarked on a transformative journey, guiding forced migrant communities through the maze of research and community development.


Over 11 months, I worked together with community leaders of forced migrant initiatives as co-researchers. We built bridges of understanding and co-creation.


I didn't just gather data—I facilitated skill-building training with the community leaders including workshops on research, stakeholder evaluations, strategic reviews and facilitations on community dialogue.


Together, myself and the co-researchers crafted research tools, conducted focus groups, and executed strategic organizational reviews.


Our collaboration wove together diverse initiatives, from Theater of the Oppressed to Blockchain for Digital Identity, painting a vivid picture of resilience and community-driven change.


EVENT: Refugees as
Development Actors

At the end of the fieldwork, we hosted a final conference event at Brickfields Asia College with support from the Make it Right Movement.

Organised by and with main speakers from forced migrant initiatives and co-researchers.

Doctoral Training

Provided by University of Oslo, Tilburg University, Duesto University, Tartu University, University of Edinburgh and North-West University. For the 1st year of this training we received 30 ECT credits. 



The European Doctorate in Law and Development (EDOLAD) is an EU funded project. It was a partnership between 6 universities:

Tilburg  University, Netherlands University of Oslo, Norway Edinburgh University, UK 

Duesto University,  Spain

Tartu University, Estonia

North West University, South Africa. 

My PhD will be a joint doctorate between the law schools in Tilburg University and University of Oslo.

Research Visit to
University of Oslo ​

Image by Christoffer Engström

2-week research visit to the University of Oslo Department of Law. Prepared for empirical research with the second supervisor. Used the opportunity to connect to COST Action New Speakers members in the Department of Linguistics. 


1st December 2015 Presented ‘Malema; forced migration and a legacy of violence and development’ in a Rights, Individuals, Culture and Society (RIKS) seminar, Department of Law, University of Oslo, Norway

3rd Year Training
Bilbao, Spain

Image by Niclas Dehmel

Communicating research is an essential skill. This module explored the issues and challenges academics face and the practical skills we require to work with actors from different sectors. We worked with policymakers from the Netherlands and connected with local Spanish NGOs.  

Designing a dissemination strategy

How to influence policy-makers


How to talk to NGOs/ civil society/ grassroots communities

1st Year Training
Tilburg, Netherlands

Image by Iñaki del Olmo

Intensive 5-month training in the following modules:

History and Theory for Law and Development 

Law and Globalisation

Law and Economics

Gender and Development

Law and Sociology and Anthropology 

International Economic Governance

Actors in Development 

Research Skills

Sustainable Development

Understanding the Local

Poverty, Human Security and Vulnerability 

Final Week Presenting PhD Proposals

I was a student representative from 2015 -2016.

2nd Year Training
Tartu, Estonia

Image by Ilya Orehov

This training dealt with the topics:

Risk assessment and personal security

From research question to a
workable fieldwork plan

Surviving your fieldwork

Planning your field research

Situating yourself /your subject

Coping with uncertainty, Negotiation and conflict

Carrying out interviews: Practice interview with a local NGO in Tartu

Researcher positionality, research Ethics,

Fieldwork writing up

Data analysis


I also took part in Consortium meetings to plan next years core curriculum

Summer School, Potchefstroom, South Africa


This summer school was a mixture of conference panels and skills training. I presented on Methodology.

Opening keynote address:  Did We Get the Land Question Wrong? speaker: Elmien du Plessis 

Panel: Why Law & Development – South- North perspectives

Roundtable: Doing L&D differently: reflections on research methodologies

Panel: Technology, Data & Social Justice

Lecture: Sustainable Development in the Urban Age speaker: prof. Sabine Schlacke

Roundtable: Teaching Law & Development

Keynote address: Gender Unlimited speaker: Bonita Meyersfeld

Meeting Lamosa  

Roundtable: the Future of Law & Development

Writing workshops

Training PhD

Non-Doctoral Research Projects 

March to September 2017

Photovoice Research Project: Valorising Voices 

Worked with refugee co-researchers to explore the lives of forced migrants living in Kuala Lumpur and Amsterdam. We conducted 2 workshops where we explored the ideas of visual representation of forced migrants and how the groups wanted to be seen. The participants then took their own photos as part of the project. The final version was presented as Valorising Voices; Refugee Lives and Voices Exhibition at the COST Action IS1306 conference New Speakers in A Multilingual Europe: Policies and Practices at Coimbra University in September 2017. This project was funded by COST Action IS1306. 

September 2012 to October 2013

Masters Dissertation Research: What is the role of linguistic capital in the inclusion or
exclusion of refugees and asylum seekers in civil society?

MSSc research focused on linguistic capital and forced migration in the context of civil society in Northern Ireland and England. Research Purpose to support future strategic opportunities for the Horn of Africa People’s Aid Northern Ireland’s projects in addition to MSSc dissertation aims. Conducted a strategic review for the organisation and was able to do a working with trauma training with the organisation. Utilised a qualitative participatory approach using community consultations, elements of co-research and semi-structured interviews. I used a snowballing sampling technique and took advantage of social media to discover new participants and the utilisation of online software for data analysis. Awarded Distinction (80%).


Islam and Democracy 

In this desk study, I conducted an in-depth literature review of the government and democratic systems of Iran post-Iranian Revolution, focusing on the interplay between Islam and democracy. Utilising a variety of sources, I critically assessed the evolution of political structures, legal frameworks, and the role of religious ideology in shaping governance. This research also challenged the notion of both western concept of Islam and what democracy means.  Rather, my findings shows there were democratic concepts than illustrated pluralistic means of governance within various strands of Islam.

Bonus: 1st Empirical Study in 2002

In and Outgroup Support and Division in Martial Arts Classes

As part of A level in Psychology course in King Edwards College in Stourbridge, I conducted a short case study on a martial arts class to investigate in and out-group behaviours. I was a martial arts student and conducted an observation during a 'back to back' competition and recorded the number times certain in and out groups behaviours were demonstrated. After a quantative data analysis I wrote up this study as a short report. 

May to September 2014 

Worked related Research: From China to the UK; Changing Academic Culture

Initiated and led a collaborative Action Research project for
Birmingham City University to end in September 2014. The project aimed to uncover the perceptions of students as they moved from China to Birmingham as part of their courses. The professional courses in China and in Birmingham aimed to improve their academic skills, including critical thinking, writing, listening to lectures and giving presentations. Given the cultural differences in academic institutions between China and the UK there was also a cultural orientation as part of the course.   
The research was integrated into the course as they were taught and were used as part of the reflexive assessments of the pre-sessional course by tutors. We aimed to support Birmingham City University’s strategic partnership development in China. Utilised mixed method iterative approach with focus groups, semi-structured interviews and quantitative analysis of students; results and online student questionnaires [ using Survey Monkey]. We presented initial research and consulted with tutors on issues of adapting to academic culture at Beijing Wuzi University in June 2014.

January 2012 to June 2012

Community Research Project: Creating Social Media Platforms as Shared Community Spaces at Ballynafeigh Community Development Association 

Conducted an organisation-wide qualitative primary research to explore the social media engagement options for a local community development organisation based on South Belfast, Northern Ireland. Created a theoretical model of online participation for community organisations to interact
with local services users and improve organisational learning.
Supported overall strategic review of organisational transparency in relation to their service
provision and local communities’ needs.


Asylum Case Worker Interview Support Birmingham Asian Resource Centre

Supported asylum claims and appeals interviews with the case workers. I sat in as co-researcher and administrative support on the interviews where asylum seekers explained their asylum claims and/or made their appeals after rejection. I transcribed and support the data input into the systems to support the legal case workers address their claims and appeals. 

Image by Jen P.

Publications and Presentations

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