The Conversation panel on asylum seekers: meet the experts

Our panel will consider options to prevent deaths at sea. AAP/Basarnas

The Conversation has brought together a team of six academic experts to tackle one of the thorniest issues in Australian politics - asylum seeker deaths at sea.

Over the next few weeks, they’ll be examining the research evidence to address the Houston panel’s terms of reference, and provide workable policy recommendations for the public and the government to consider.

Their discussions and policy proposals will be public, and published on our group blog (and of course reader comments are welcome). Stay tuned.


Sharon Pickering

Professor Sharon Pickering researches irregular border crossing and has written in the areas of refugees and trafficking with a focus on gender and human rights.

She currently leads a series of ARC projects focusing on the intersections of security and migration. She has previously worked in Northern Ireland, on counter-terrorism policing, and human rights and women in South East Asia. She is currently head of the Criminology program at Monash University and is the Editor of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology. She has recently taken up an ARC Future Fellowship on Border Policing and Security.

Savtri Taylor

Dr Savitri Taylor is an Associate Professor in the Law School at La Trobe University and presently the School’s Director of Research.

Her research over the past 20 years has focused on refugee law and asylum policy at the national, regional and international level.

Her most recently completed research project, an ARC Linkage Project conducted with Professor Sandra Gifford, in partnership with Oxfam Australia and Jesuit Refugee Service Australia, looked at the impact of Australia’s border control cooperation with Indonesia and PNG on the human rights of asylum seekers and host communities in those two countries.

Stephen Castles

Stephen Castles is a Research Professor of Sociology at the University of Sydney and a Research Associate of the International Migration Institute (IMI), University of Oxford.

He is a sociologist and political economist, and works on international migration dynamics, global governance, migration and development, and regional migration trends in Africa, Asia and Europe.

His current research project “Social Transformation and International Migration in the 21st Century” is concerned with the way global forces interact with local factors to shape human mobility. It involves fieldwork in Australia, Turkey, South Korea and Mexico.

From 2001-2006, Stephen Castles was Director of the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University. He has been an advisor to the Australian and British Governments, and has worked for the International Labour Organization, the International Organization M, the European Union and other international bodies.

Sandy Gifford

Sandy Gifford is Professor of Anthropology and Refugee Studies at the Swinburne Institute for Social Research. She was the previous founding director of the La Trobe Refugee Research Centre - La Trobe University.

Her background is in medical anthropology and her research has addressed ethnicity, migration, settlement and health in Australia. Her current research focuses on settlement, wellbeing, policy and practice among recently arrived humanitarian migrants in Australia with a particular focus on young people.

She has expertise in ethnographic longitudinal studies using a mix of methods from standardized surveys and in-depth interviewing to digital media, film and participatory art based methods.

Melissa Phillips

Melissa has more than 10 years’ experience working with refugees and asylum-seekers in Australia, the United Kingdom and South Sudan. She has managed a humanitarian resettlement program (for refugees arriving under the offshore program), worked with Red Cross’ International Tracing and Refugee Services Section, and has also worked at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre.

Melissa has worked for the Refugee Council of Australia and was a board member of the Board of the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS – NSW).

In 2005, Melissa was seconded to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in South Sudan; she lived in the capital Juba up to 2009 working with UN and later in an NGO coordination role.

Helen Ware

Helen Ware is Professor of Peace Studies at the University of New England. She was formerly Director of Research for the Australian Human Rights Commission. Her training is in demography.

She has acted as an AUSAid educational advisor on the Pacific and Asia, as the Australian High Commissioner in Zambia and within the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Office for the Status of Women within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Helen has many years of policy experience as senior bureaucrat working in the fields of human rights, development, education and international affairs.

Do you have any questions for our panel? Leave a comment below.