Frances Voon is a global human rights leader who has dedicated her life to advancing the rights of refugees. As Executive Manager of UNSW’s Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, Ms Voon provides strategic leadership at the world’s first centre for international refugee law, with the aim of placing evidence and principle at the centre of what remains a divisive topic of public and policy debate.
Ms Voon’s commitment to refugees is motivated by her passion for ensuring fundamental human rights for all, an area she has focused on since the very beginning of her career. After completing a Bachelor of Arts/Law at the University of NSW, she worked with the UN World Food Programme in Bangladesh, where she saw first-hand the dehumanisation of refugees due to political and policy decisions, demonstrating how legal status on a piece of paper can be the difference between life and death.
After completing a year as an Associate to Justice John Basten at the Supreme Court of NSW and being admitted to legal practice, Ms Voon moved to the United Kingdom to complete a Masters in Development Studies at the University of Oxford as a John Monash Scholar, where her research addressed policy and assistance for refugees in situations of protracted displacement. After graduating with distinction, she immediately put her research into practice, returning to Bangladesh with the World Food Programme, before heading to Jordan with Jesuit Refugee Service to work alongside urban refugees in Amman. In 2013, she joined the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Policy Development and Evaluation Service in Geneva, contributing to learning and effectiveness in refugee operations, including a real-time evaluation of the agency’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis. She was also deployed to South Sudan through UNHCR’s Emergency Response Roster to support the humanitarian response to the escalating civil conflict. Her time working across multiple displacement situations cemented her commitment to working in partnership with refugee communities to create a more just, inclusive and equitable world.
Since joining the Kaldor Centre in 2015, Ms Voon has led their efforts to foster a positive alternative narrative about how we can respond to refugees, demonstrated through the Kaldor Centre’s Principles for Australian Refugee Policy and its award-winning multimedia project Temporary. She has also spearheaded a mentoring program for refugee scholars at the Kaldor Centre, and sits on the board of the Refugee Advice & Casework Service (RACS). Last year, Ms Voon’s contribution and leadership saw her named one of the 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australians by the Asian-Australian Leadership Summit.
Ms Voon is a remarkable global Australian whose work as a humanitarian, a policy shaper and maker, an advocate and a thought leader is driving significant impact for refugees across the globe.
See Frances’ response here to being named the Awardee of the Social Impact Award for 2022.