Dr. Mariagiulia Giuffre © Dr. Mariagiulia Giuffre

Meet Legal Scholar Dr. Mariagiulia Giuffré: Approaching Migration From the Judicial Side

In the series “33 questions” we introduce, in no particular order, our WiRe Fellows who are currently working on a research project here at the University of Münster. Why 33? Well, if we think of the rush hour of life, it is kind of the age that lies in its middle. And we also like the number😉.

In today’s episode we are speaking with Mariagiulia, legal scholar who is passionate about law and human rights.

1. What motivated you to work in the field of law?

I think my parents’ sense of justice. The interest I have for international law and human rights come from the idea that all human beings must be entitled to equal protection of the law. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. So my discipline – laying down which obligations States have to respect, protect and fulfil human rights of everyone without any discrimination – is only one of the several instruments to work in this direction

2. Describe your daily work in three words. 

Reading; writing; connecting theory and practice

3. Describe your research topic in three words. 

I would use the following three phrases: Extraterritorial jurisdiction; migrants and refugees’ rights; search and rescue obligations.

4. A good legal scholar needs…? 

Creativity; knowledge of the literature; passion for writing and teaching; interest in finding ways to use the law as a tool to contribute to a better society

5. What is the best experience you have had as a scientist / researcher? 

After years spent in trying to make a book out of my PhD thesis, the birth of my lovely daughter made me realize that things can unfold more smoothly than expected. So I gave birth, I understood the real meaning of the word “multi-tasking”, and after a few months I brought my never-ending writing to an end by publishing my monograph. It was obviously dedicated to Tania!

6. What was your biggest research disaster? 

I guess my first PhD seminar where I received many critical comments, which I was probably not ready to see as constructive feedback, yet. 

7. Which (historical) important scientist would you like to have dinner with? What would you ask?

I’d fancy having dinner with Einstein and ask how to dare to go beyond our own limits, and (why not) physical borders.

8. If time and money were no object: Which research project would you like to do?

An interdisciplinary project on the effective benefits of migration and mobility for hosting countries. In this respect, I would also explore all possible pathways to ensure legal and safe access of migrants to destination countries.

9. What is your favorite research discipline other than your own?

Though I do not do research in these areas, I’m fascinated by psychology, natural medicine, ecology, and music.

10. What do you consider the greatest achievement in the history of human rights law? 

The adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the whole spectrum of developments it has triggered.

11. Which experience in the world of academia disappointed you most?

I don’t like coming across persons with extremely competitive and careerist attitudes.

12. What was the funniest moment you had in your research?

On the spot, I cannot point you on one single episode. But I had so much fun during part of my PhD in Sweden where I enjoyed the company of many fantastic friends from different disciplines and countries, and we used to party, dance and go out a lot after work!

13. How did you survive your PhD time?

Family and my partner’s support were key. I was also very fortunate with both of my two supervisors, Prof. Alì e Prof. Noll, and my amazing friends. Especially during my time abroad, they treated me like family which made me feel at home all the time.

14. What direct or indirect relevance does your research have for society?

One of my main interests is currently the externalization of migration controls by which EU Member States delegate the management of borders to third countries to prevent the arrival of migrants and refugees. I think my research can provide insights on the impact these forms of cooperation have on the rights of migrants and refugees and which obligations the EU and its Member States have towards them, especially when migrants are intercepted/rescued at sea. I also believe that UN and EU agencies require research and debate on this topic to orientate policy and practice with governments.

My hope is that acquiring new knowledge on the legal implications of externalization policies and extraterritorial human rights obligations, can help professional bodies, NGOs, civil society bodies, advocacy groups, and representatives from local and national agencies with finding further insights on how they, as organisations, can contribute to enhance refugees’ safe and legal routes to protection in Europe.

Media presentations of the challenges relating to migration can be shallow and misleading. My research attempts to inform the public and help move the discussions in this area along to include a more nuanced and informed understanding of this important area of law and policy.

© Mariagiulia Giuffre

15. How did you imagine the life of researcher when you were a high school student?

I thought researchers were only scientists, i.e., people that make experiments in their labs, spend months either in the jungle searching for new insects, on board of a research ship to explore abyssal vegetation, or at the South Pole to counter the melting of glaciers.

16. Is it actually different? In what way?

Yes quite so! Occasionally, people still look at me stunned, and with a pinch of embarrassment ask: “Mmm, do lawyers really carry out research”? or “But, with full respect, what are you actually searching for?”

I hope I have answered your question?!

17. What do you like most about the “lifestyle” of a researcher? And what least of it? 

I like freedom of thought and the gift of having time (when teaching and admin are not overwhelming) to explore your ideas and go over complex issues. What I detest is the implied limitation to freedom of expression de facto imposed on certain hot and sensitive topics that, in my view, should be addressed with the lens of law, rather than politics.

18. Do you think your career would have evolved differently if you were a man?


19. If you were the research minister of Germany, what would you do to improve the situation of women in science?

I’m not sure what the research minister of Germany has already done for women in research, but programs like the WiRe fellowship are amazing! I would actually suggest the ministers of both Italy and the UK to follow suit and promote: fellowships for women returning to work after maternity leave (including adoption); “Wire” fellowships for early career and senior researchers; as well as studies to assess the level of progression (and pace of progression) of women to higher roles in the academia in comparison to their male colleagues.

20. If you had a daughter, what would you advise her not to do?

Never give up! I would advise her to take good care of herself, to be self-confident, to follow her passions and intuition, to battle her demons and find peace, health. I would try to teach her to be empathic and compassionate standing up against injustice.

© Mariagiulia Giuffre

21. How would you explain your research area and topic to a child?

I study what rights migrants and refugees have, and what duties States hold toward these persons, not only within their territory but also outside their borders. Who is responsible for human rights violations committed by the authorities of a third country to which border controls have been delegated? And additionally, do migrants have a right to be rescued at sea? If so, how can search and rescue obligations be construed?

22. What is the biggest challenge for you when it comes to balancing family and career?

Having enough quality time to spend daily with my daughter; and, as an expat living in the UK and now in Germany, having limited occasions to stay with my family in my home country, Italy.

23. How do you master this / these challenge(s)?

I dedicate many (never enough!) hours to Tania and my private life (for example also renouncing work on the weekend – something I used to do substantively before having a baby).

24. How often do you as a friend / partner / mother / daughter feel guilty when you have to meet a deadline – again?

The sense of guilt is mostly a negative feeling and I try to avoid it, but sometimes it is inevitable.

25. How did you imagine your future as a child? What profession did you want to pursue?

I wanted to become an archeologist.

26. How do you keep your head clear when you are stressed? 

Deep breathing, yoga, physical exercise; at time hypnosis. Watching the sea helps me a lot.

27. What is your favorite German word?


28. What makes you most happy about the world?

The capacity to care about other human beings and the nature around us.

29. What worries you most about the world?

The lack of far-sightedness and awareness for the disasters mankind is creating, in terms of climate change, environmental destruction, natural resources conflicts and human rights abuses.

30. If you could travel in time: in which epoch and at which discovery or event would you have liked to have been there?

I would have loved walking in Mesoamerica during the Maya and Aztec civilizations; practicing philosophy in Ancient Greece; taking part to the Cuban revolution; landing on the moon for the first time, and finally… attending the Woodstock concert in the late sixties! Not really academic experiences, but still… 

31. What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing a Research@home-WiRe-fellowship?

Lack of debate and exchange of views with colleagues; no ‘fikas’ and lunches with friends are the downsides. However, the time spent in public transport to commute from home to Uni is replaced by many hours dedicated to work and to private life (and this combination makes a researcher happier, more productive, and more relaxed).

32. What is your favourite place to relax from research during the pandemic? 

My family house on the beach in the Eolian islands. 

33. If someone asks you about your age, what do you respond spontaneously?

My age! 

As my mother used to say: “Birthdays? At the end of the day, the important thing is having them!” 

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