Accessibility statement

The Verandah of Protection: the protection of Rohingya refugees

Date: 2019 - November 2021

How do individual and collective histories of violence and displacement influence how people respond to appeals for protection from others? How might these histories be woven into understandings of refugee protection?

A team of researchers from the Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR) and York Law School in collaboration with a local partner (the Geutanyoe Foundation) seeks to explore these questions using the novel case study of the thousands of Rohingya who have sought protection in Aceh (Indonesia) over the past decade in a British Academy funded two year research project with fieldwork in Aceh, elsewhere in Indonesia, Malaysia and countries of resettlement.

The provision of refuge to thousands of Rohingya in Aceh, the northern-most province of Indonesia, over the last decade by a wide range of predominantly local actors (including local fisherman, civil society and local government), often in opposition to the wishes of national authorities, stands as an exception in Southeast Asia, where the reception of refugees is normally marked by resistance, hostile rhetoric, and even violence (Nah, 2019). The project seeks to understand the significance of the relatively short history of such protection as both determined by and constitutive of longer histories of identity, violence and protection – of the Acehnese, Rohingya and in Southeast Asia more generally.

Using a multi-site, inter-disciplinary, multi-method and creative research process, the project examines the negotiation of these histories in Acehnese legal fora, in particular through sharia and adat (customary) law, which are themselves informed by histories of conflict. The project traces the onward movement of Rohingya to other parts of Indonesia and Malaysia and elsewhere, examining how (other) host communities – with(out) histories of violence – respond to their protection. The project explores ‘indigenous’ approaches to protection in contexts where international arguments are weak (particularly in Southeast Asia), problematising ‘expertise’ in protection (and research) that have hitherto privileged international over local actors (Jones, 2015).

The project will document the 'dissonant histories' (Tunbridge and Ashworth, 1996; Salim, 2008) in Aceh that informed the legal contestations around protection, involving local legal actors, norms and systems. Bringing a relatively rare example of the welcoming of refugees into discussions of protection in Southeast Asia, combined with the rescaling of analysis to the local level and the retemporalising of its significance within broader histories, has the potential to strengthen protection to those displaced from violence. The project also seeks to explore the impact of affirming dissonant histories in collective memorialisation and to examine linkages between the collective recuperation of these histories, sustainable peace and the prevention of violence.

The project brings together a team of researchers from CAHR (Martin Jones, Alice Nah, Juliana Mensah and Fitria Fitria) and builds upon the recently ended ESRC funded Law of Asylum project which did pilot research in Aceh and involved the same team. The local project partner, the Geutanyoe Foundation, is a regional grass-roots civil society organisation founded by activists who have pioneered the humanitarian and non-violent civic movement in Aceh since 1999.  The Guetanyoe Foundation were recently recognised through the prestigious Ockenden Prize for their pioneering work with the Rohingya, with the judges noting that their programming was both highly practical and imaginative. The project also has the potential to involve CAHR's LLM in International Human Rights Law and Practice students in some of its fieldwork in Malaysia in the future.

For more information about the project contact Martin Jones (

Find out more about British Academy’s Heritage, Dignity and Violence programme.