Refugees - Research Guide International Law


The United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol defines a refugee as someone who, ‘owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country’. The definition of a refugee was expanded by regional conventions in Africa and Latin America to include persons who had fled war or other violence in their home country. It is important to note that article 33 of the Convention provides for the principle of non-refoulement which means that no contracting state shall expel or return (refouler) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to territories where his or her life or freedom would be threatened. Those who seek refugee status are referred to as "asylum seekers"; the conditions under which a person is granted refugee status is left to the discretion of States. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner  for Refugees (UNHCR) is the principal UN organ that protects and supports refugees. Over time, UNHCR's mandate has been expanded to cover other persons of concern, including some internally displaced persons.  The UNHCR assists refugees in their resettlement or return and finds other solutions to their plight. On an international level, debates continue regarding the nature of the protection that refugees should be granted, the obligations of receiving countries and the role of the international community towards refugees.

This Research Guide is intended as a starting point for research on Refugees. It provides the basic legal materials available in the Peace Palace Library, both in print and electronic format. Handbooks, leading articles, bibliographies, periodicals, serial publications and documents of interest are presented in the Selective Bibliography section. See the Librarians Choice for the latest important publications on refugees and internally displaced persons. Links to the PPL Catalogue are inserted. The Library's classification index code (systematic code) 160c. Other Administrative, Social and Humanitarian Questions (Refugees, etc.) and keywords Refugees or Displaced Persons are instrumental for searching through the Catalogue. Other systematic codes which may be helpful are 53a6a. (European Union immigration issues),  100 (Emigration and immigration in general), 101. (Emigration and immigration in the various states), 103. (Expulsion) and 253. (Asylum). Other keywords which may be helpful: Emigration and Immigration, Asylum, Right of Asylum, Irregular migrants, Convention relating to the Status of RefugeesUNHCR, Expulsion and Non-Refoulement. Special attention in the Research Guide is given to our subscriptions on databases, e-journals, e-books and other electronic resources. Finally, this Research Guide features links to relevant websites and other online resources of particular interest.

News (last ten days)

F. Johannisson, Hidden child labour: how Syrian refugees in Turkey are supplying Europe with fast fashion, 29-01-2016, the Guardian.

M. Ignatieff, America as bystander to the refugee crisis, the Boston Globe, 29-01-2016.

Germany tightens refugee policy as Finland joins Sweden in deportations, AFP, The Guardian, 29-01-2016.

More Than 10,000 Child Refugees Have Disappeared In Europe, Europol's Brian Donald Warns, The Huffington Post, 31-01-2016.

Criminal refugees to be deported to third countries, DW, 31-01-2016.

German labor minister threatens 'non-integrating' refugees with welfare cuts, DW, 01-02-2016.

K. Roth, A way for Europe to remove chaos from the migration crisis, Reuters, 01-02-2016.

J. Kollewe, Economists to Cameron: refugee crisis response 'morally unacceptable' , The Guardian, 01-02-2016.

V. Wagener,Opinion: Temporary asylum is the only way!, DW, 01-02-2016.

P. Mason, Europe’s refugee story has hardly begun, The Guardian, 01-02-2016.

Mihai Pătru, Waiting In Limbo: A Human Security Perspective on the Refugee Crisis in Europe, The Huffington Post, 2-2-2016.

M. Martinovic, Refugees reloaded - Lessons from Germany's approach to Bosnian war, DW, 2-2-2016.

Commission adopts Schengen Evaluation Report on Greece and proposes recommendations to address deficiencies in external border management, EU, 2-2-2016.

J. Frost, High Court dismisses appeal to challenge offshore asylum-seeker processing and detention, International Business Times, 3-2-2016.

AFP, UN says one-third of refugees sailing to Europe are children, The Guardian, 3-2-2016.

Refugee facility for Turkey: Member states agree on details of financing, Press release, EU, 3-2-2016.

P. Wintour, Syrian refugees: world leaders aim to raise $9bn to reduce plight of millions, the Guardian, 4-2-2016.

P. Kingsley, Increasing aid for Syrian refugees is not the only option. Here are four more, the Guardian, 4-2-2016.

N. Gingrich, Refugee lessons from Europe, The Washington Times, 4-2-2016.

Donor conference, Supporting Syria & The Region, 4 February 2016.

Civil Society at Donor conference, ‘Now turn pledges into actions’, 4 February 2016.

Danish Refugee Council, Going to Europe: A Syrian perspective, 4 February 2016.

UN, Humanitarian Response Plan 2016-2016, 4 February 2016

M. Siegel, Australia may crack down on Syrian refugees - leaked document, Reuters, 5-2-2016.

Chris Selley: There is nothing morally wrong with asking asylum-seekers to pay what they can, the National Post, 5-2-2016.

S. Boztas, These are the toughest places for asylum seekers to enter Europe, The Telegraph, 5-2-2016.

C. Copley, German spy agency says IS sending fighters disguised as refugees, Reuters Africa,, 5-2-2016.

A. Barnard, Syrian forces press Aleppo, sending thousands fleeing, Boston Globe, 6-2-2016.

'Detention & removal’ centers needed to control refugee flows – EU migration chief , TT. com, 6-2-2016.

Turkey willing to open borders for Syrian refugees 'if necessary', DW, 7-2-2016.

Taffan Ako Sharif, I Am Not Illegal, I Am Not a Crime - I Am a Refugee, Huffington Post, 7-2-2016.

K. Calamur, The Steady Trickle of Refugee Deaths in the Mediterranean, The Atlantic, 8-2-2016.

Turkey and Germany pledge to unite in more 'joint efforts' in refugee crisis, DW, 8-2-2016.

R. Revesz, Donald Trump: Mexico says it will not pay a cent towards that 'stupid wall', The Independent, 8-2-2016.

M. Lowen, Turkey uses refugee crisis to up the ante, BBC, 8-2-2016.

E. Hannon, Federal Judge Denies Texas Lawmakers’ Attempt to Block Resettlement of Syrian Refugees, The Slate, 8-2-2016.






Online publications (open access), november 2015-february 2016.

Reference works


Recent articles


Periodicals, serial publications

Refugee Law Course



New titles

1. The cultural defense of nations
The cultural defense of nations : a liberal theory of majority rights / Liav Orgad. - Oxford, United Kingdom : Oxford University Press, 2015. - XXII, 273 pages. ; 24 cm. - (Oxford constitutional theory) Bibliography: page 237-265. - Includes bibliographic references and an index. - 2015
Keywords: Emigration and immigration, Integration, Human rights, Liberalism, National identity, Cultural rights, Norms,

2. Saharawi refugees
Saharawi refugees : Western Sahara conflict / Priti Chahal. - First edition. - Delhi : Vista International Publishing House, 2014. - XIII, 182 pages. ; 22 cm Originally presented as the author's thesis. - Includes bibliographical references (pages 170-182). - 2014
Keywords: Western Sahara, Africa, United Nations, African Union, Decolonization, National liberation wars, Occupation, Refugees, Women,

Librarian's choice

  • Westra, L., S. Juss and T. Scovazzi, Towards a Refugee Oriented Right of Asylum, Farnham, Ashgate, 2015.

    westra, towards a refugee oriented right of asylum

    This volume explores the factors that give rise to the number of people seeking asylum and examines the barriers they currently and will continue to face. Divided into three parts, the authors first explore the causality that generates displacement, examining climate change, illegal conflicts and the deprivation of natural resources. They argue that all of these problems either originate from human agency directly, or are strongly influenced by human activities, particularly those of wealthy countries in the North West. The study goes on to discuss how migrants are received and the problems they face on arrival, and concludes with confronting the fate and the status of asylum seekers after arrival, and the walls, both virtual and material, that they encounter. The authors propose ways of approaching the situation, beyond the present language and the limited interpretations of the Convention on the Status of Refugees.

    View this title in our link resolver Plinklet
  • Cantor, D.J., L.F. Freier and J-P. Gauci (ed.), A Liberal Tide? Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy in Latin America, London, Institute of Latin American Studies, 2015.

    A Liberal Tide,  Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy in Latin America

    Over the past decade, a paradigm shift in migration and asylum law and policymaking appears to have taken place in Latin America. Does this apparent “liberal tide” of new laws and policies suggest a new approach to the hot topics of migration and refugees in Latin America distinct from the regressive and restrictive attitudes on display in other parts of the world? The question is urgent not only for our understanding of contemporary Latin America but also as a means of reorienting the debate in the migration studies field toward the important developments currently taking place in the region and in other parts of the global south. This book brings together eight varied and vibrant new analyses by scholars from Latin America and beyond to form the first collection that describes and critically examines the new liberalism in Latin American law and policy on migration and refugees.

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  • Freedman, J., Gendering the International Asylum and Refugee Debate, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

    gendering the international asylum and refugee debate

    Women make up at least half of the world's refugees, but only a minority of asylum seekers who reach the West are female. International conventions as well as national laws and policies on asylum have frequently overlooked or ignored the gendered nature of asylum issues. Indeed, despite policies to counter gender-based violence, women in refugee camps are often victims of rape and sexual violence. This book redresses the lack of gender-specific analyses of asylum and refugee issues by providing a comprehensive account of women in global forced migration, and explaining the ways in which women's experiences are shaped by gendered relations and structures. The book provides a wide-ranging examination of all sides of the debate looking at causes of refugee flows, international laws and conventions and their application, responses to refugees and asylum seekers and the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers themselves. Drawing on interviews with refugees, asylum seekers, members of NGOs, voluntary organizations and policy makers, this book will be a valuable resource for students, academics and practitioners alike.

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  • Gauci, J-P., M. Giuffré and E. Tsourdi (eds.), Exploring the Boundaries of Refugee Law: Current Protection Challenges, Leiden?Boston, Brill Nijhoff, 2015.

    Gauce (et al)(eds)Exploring the Boundaries of Refugee Law

    rotection challenges around the globe require innovative legal, policy and practical responses. Drawing primarily from a new generation of researchers in the field of refugee law, this volume explores the ‘boundaries’ of refugee law. On the one hand, it ascertains the scope of the legal provisions by highlighting new trends in State practice and analysing the jurisprudence of international human rights bodies, as well as national and international Courts. On the other hand, it marks the boundaries of refugee law as ‘legal frontiers’ whilst exploring new approaches and new frameworks that are necessary in order to address the emerging protection challenges.

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  • Baxewanos, F., Defending Refugee Rights : International Law and Europe's Offshored Immigration Control, Wien ; Graz, NWV Neuer Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 2015.

    Baxewanos, F., Defending Refugee Rights  International Law and Europe's Offshored Immigration Control, Wien  Graz, NWV Neuer Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 2015.

    European immigration control has been increasingly offshored in recent years. Various measures, such as the introduction of stricter visa requirements, carrier sanctions, and immigration liaison officers, effectively shifted immigration control away from the European border into third states' territories. As these extraterritorial controls are usually not accompanied by appropriate legal safeguards, they raise important questions from a human rights perspective. For refugees, in particular, they make access to protection increasingly unavailable.

    This book is therefore concerned with the question of how refugee rights can be upheld in situations of offshored immigration control. It answers this question from an interdisciplinary perspective, dealing with

    • theoretical concepts that need to be revisited in order to strengthen international law's effectiveness in these situations, such as ‘the border' and ‘sovereignty';
    • the development, forms and rationales of offshored immigration control; and
    • legal instruments to ensure human rights protection in these cases, especially regarding the principle of non-refoulement.
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  • Peers, S. (et al)(eds.), EU Immigration and Asylum Law, Text and Commentary, Volume III: EU Asylum Law, Leiden, Brill Nijhoff, 2015.

    peers, s, EU Immigration and Asylum Law (Text and Commentary) Second Revised Edition

    Since 1999, the EU has adopted legislation harmonizing many areas of immigration law, in particular rules on borders, visas, legal migration, and irregular migration. The much-enlarged and fully updated second edition of this book contains the text of and detailed commentary upon every significant measure in this field proposed or adopted up until 1 September 2011. It includes commentary on the EU visa code, the Schengen Borders Code, the Frontex Regulation, the Returns Directive, the Directives on family reunion, long-term residents and single permits for migrant workers, and many more besides.
    This is the essential guide for any lawyers, academics, civil servants, NGOs and students interested in this area of law.

    The authors of each commentary are academic and practitioner experts in the field of EU immigration law based in the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands.

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  • Y. Jansen, R. Celikates and J. de Bloois (eds.), The Irregularization of Migration in Contemporary Europe : Detention, Deportation, Drowning, London ; New York, Rowman & Littlefield International, 2015.

    jansen, y. et al, The Irregularization of Migration in Contemporary Europe

    Working from an interdisciplinary perspective that draws on the social sciences, legal studies, and the humanities, this book investigates the causes and effects of the extremities experienced by migrants. Firstly, the volume analyses the development and political-cultural conditions of current practices and discourses of “bordering,” “illegality,” and “irregularization.” Secondly, it focuses on the varieties of irregularization and on the diversity of the fields, techniques and effects involved in this variegation. Thirdly, the book examines examples of resistance that migrants and migratory cultures have developed in order to deal with the predicaments they face. The book uses the European Union as its case study, exploring practices and discourses of bordering, border control, and migration regulation. But the significance of this field extends well beyond the European context as the monitoring of Europe’s borders increasingly takes place on a global scale and reflects an internationally increasing trend.

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  • Baldinger, D., Vertical Judicial Dialogues in Asylum Cases: Standards on Judicial Scrutiny and Evidence in International and European Law, Leiden/Boston, Brill Nijhoff, 2015.

    baldinger, d., vertical judicial dialogues in asylum cases

    What do international and EU law require from the national asylum judge with regard to the intensity of judicial scrutiny to be applied and evidentiary issues? To answer that question, an analysis is made of the provisions on national judicial proceedings contained in the Refugee Convention (RC), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the UN Convention against Torture (CAT), the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. In addition, the assessment as performed by the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Committee against Torture and the European Court of Human Rights in cases concerning the expulsion of asylum seekers is analysed.

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  • Cherubini, F., Asylum Law in the European Union, London; New York, Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015.

    Cherubini, F., Asylum Law in the European Union, London ; New York Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2015

    This book examines the rules governing the right to asylum in the European Union. Drawing on the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and the 1967 Protocol, Francesco Cherubini asks how asylum obligations under international refugee law have been incorporated into the European Union. The book draws from international law, EU law and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, and focuses on the prohibition of refoulement; the main obligation the EU law must confront. Cherubini explores the dual nature of this principle, examining both the obligation to provide a fair procedure that determines the conditions of risk in the country of origin or destination, and the obligation to respond to a possible expulsion. Through this study the book sheds light on EU competence in asylum when regarding the different positions of Member States. The book will be of great use and interest to researchers and students of asylum and immigration law, EU law, and public international law.

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  • The EU Migration Crisis and Moral Obligations

    The European Union is currently coping with the world’s biggest migrant crisis since World War II. A record number of 107,500 migrants reached the EU’s borders last month.Large numbers of desparate migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa are trying to enter the European Union every day. Apart from this there are also many illegal immigrants who have entered the EU undetected. A conserable number of them have died during their attempt. According to a report of the UNHCR, around 2500 migrants who were trying to reach and enter the European Union have died or gone missing in the past year.

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  • Climate Change and Forced Migration : A Gap in Protection

    The barely-above-sea-level, coral-dependent Maldives are sinking into the Indian Ocean. The apocalyptic fate is due to climate-change induced temperature increases, which have resulted in rising sea levels and dying coral reefs. In response, the state has built artificial islands—to accommodate the rising sea levels that may render previous places of residence inhabitable—and The Great Male Sea Wall—to protect Male from imposing storms. Many people have already been evacuated from their homes, temporarily housed in camps elsewhere in the Maldives. However, eventually the Maldives may become completely submerged and inhospitable. If the Maldives become a casualty of climate change, as has been predicted, people will be forced to flee from the islands altogether, potentially becoming stateless. They will have to seek protection elsewhere.

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  • Mixed Migration Flows Across the Mediterranean: The EU Agenda on Migration

    Wars, conflict and persecution have forced more people than at any other time in history to flee their homes and seek refuge and safety elsewhere, according to UNHCR’s annual Global Trends Report: World at War, released on June 18, two days before world refugee day. One of the most recent and highly visible consequences of the world’s conflicts and the terrible suffering they cause has been the dramatic growth in the numbers of refugees seeking safety through dangerous sea journeys, including on the Mediterranean, in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, and in Southeast Asia.

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  • Borders Beyond Control?

    In my previous blogpost “Feigning Immigration Control”, I argued that politicians are often busy with feigning immigration control while in reality they often can or want to do little about it. What do we actually know about the effects of immigration policies? In order to answer this question, I have conducted a research project on the ‘Determinants of International Migration’ (DEMIG) at the International Migration Institute at Oxford University. One of the main insights of the project is that while immigration restrictions often reduce immigration, these effects tend to be rather small. In addition, restrictions often have a four potential side-effects (‘substitution effects’) which further undermine their effectiveness or can even make them counter-productive.

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  • Border Controls and Human Rights: Migration in the Central Mediterranean

    The Central Mediterranean has, in the last years, turned into the epicentre of human (migrant) disasters. The Central Mediterranean route refers to the migratory flow coming from Northern Africa towards Italy and Malta through the Mediterranean Sea. Here, Libya often acts as nexus point where migrants from the Horn of Africa and Western African routes meet before embarking on their journey towards the EU.

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  • First Global Forum on Statelessness - "New Directions in Statelessness Research and Policy"

    From 15 to 17 September 2014, 3 institutions (the UNHCR, the agency mandated by the General Assembly to help states to address statelessness, and the Statelessness Programme of Tilburg University) co-hosted the first held Global Forum on Statelessness. The three-day event took place in the Academy building of the Peace Palace of The Hague, the Netherlands.

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  • International Refugee Law blog series I: Exclusion of Refugee Status: The Criminal Refugee

    In the western world it is possible you live next to a war criminal, or your child might be playing with the daughter of a war criminal at school. It is also possible to live there without a real prospect of obtaining a form of legal status and without being held criminally responsible for the alleged crime. Who are these people living in legal limbo? why are they still here? The exclusion of refugee status (1F Refugee Convention) and its consequences will be dealt with in this blog.

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International organisations


Research and academia

Blogs and commentary on immigration, refugees and asylum.



See also

More Research guides on Individuals and Groups

PPL keywords

Other suggestions

  • Guest Post: Too Much Information? (There has been an exponential expansion in the amount of information and analysis on refugee-related issues over the past 30 years. But has quantity outstripped quality? Jeff Crisp provides this commentary.)

In the Spotlight: REFUGEE 'CRISIS'

In response to the refugee crisis in Europe, Oxford University Press has made more than 30 book chapters, journal articles, and pieces of content from online resources freely accessible to assist those working with refugees on the ground, as well as anyone who would like to know more about the framework of rights and obligations concerning refugees. The materials are structured around four key questions: who is a refugee, what rights do they have, what are transit states’ obligations, and what are the duties of the state where a refugee applies for asylum. See See also the Oxford Human Rights Hub Blog Series on Human Rights and the Refugee Crisis in Europe and this blog by James Hathaway



Annual Report on the Situation of Asylum in the European Union 2014

UNHCR Mid-Year Trends 2015

UNHCR Asylum Trends 2014

UNHCR Statistical Yearbook 2014

Fact-check (in dutch, monitors on a monthly basis the factual accuracy of what is said by (left and right wing) politicians and the media in the Netherlands on the topic of refugees)

Deze week: Euro-commissaris Frans Timmermans (interview met de NOS, 25  januari 2016)

“Het gaat om 60 procent van alle vluchtelingen. Dat zijn mensen waarvan je kunt aannemen dat ze geen enkele reden hebben om een vluchtelingenstatus aan te vragen.”

Het zouden vooral migranten uit Marokko en Tunesië zijn, die via Turkije naar Europa proberen te komen. Timmermans baseert zich volgens een woordvoerder op nog niet gepubliceerde gegevens uit december van het Europese grensbewakingsagentschap Frontex. Bij Frontex kon een woordvoerder de exacte cijfers waarover Timmermans sprak niet bevestigen op maandag 25 januari 2016. Op 28 januari 2016 publiceerde Frontex het bericht dat 39% van de migranten die aankwamen in december 2015 op de Griekse eilanden stelden van Syrische nationaliteit te zijn. Terwijl het percentage Syriërs is gedaald is het percentage Iraki's gestegen tot 25 % in december. Het gemiddeld aandeel van Afghanen fluctueert tussen 25% en 33% van de aangekomen migranten.

Oordeel: Tenzij Iraki's en Afghanen economische vluchtelingen zijn (wat niet zo is), is deze bewering onjuist indien het gaat om de migranten die op de Griekse eilanden aankomen.  Timmermans laat in een reactie weten dat hij het niet alleen had over de mensen die via Turkije reizen maar over alle grenspassages en niet specifiek die van Griekenland. Uit het fragment van de uitzending blijkt dat ook die bewering van Timmermans niet klopt. Er wordt door hem specifiek over Turkije en Griekenland gesproken en de “snelweg” die die route naar Europa vormt.

Een woordvoerder van Eurocommissaris Timmermans laat op 28 januari 2016 weten dat hij bij zijn woorden blijft. Alleen zou Timmermans zijn uitspraken nu ineens niet meer hebben gebaseerd op cijfers die Frontex deze week zou publiceren, maar op gegevens die ‘binnenkort’ naar buiten komen. Ook zouden die cijfers ‘alle irreguliere grensoverschrijdingen’ betreffen. Dat meldt de NRC.

Oordeel: De uitspraak van Frans Timmermans dat 60% van de vluchtelingen geen reden heeft om een vluchtelingenstatus aan te vragen is onjuist. Afgezien van het feit dat een ieder een aanvraag kan doen voor een vluchtelingenstatus, geven de wel bekende cijfers aan dat de overgrote meerderheid uit oorlogslanden komt (Syrië, Afghanistan, Irak). Ik kan geen oordeel geven over nog niet gepubliceerde gegevens.