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 systematic classification → Public international law 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.


Online publications (open access), 2016.

Reference works


Recent articles


Periodicals, serial publications

Refugee Law Course



New titles

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Librarian's choice

  • Moretti, S., La protection internationale des réfugiés en Asie du sud-est: du privilège aux droits, Bruxelles, Bruylant, 2016.

    La Convention relative au statut des réfugiés de 1951, le Protocole de 1967 et le Haut-Commissariat des Nations Unies pour les réfugiés (HCR) forment les trois piliers du régime international de protection des réfugiés, qui a été renforcé également à travers l’adoption d’instruments régionaux en Afrique, en Amérique latine et en Europe. Il n’existe rien de tel en Asie du sud-est, cependant, où seuls les Philippines et le Cambodge sont parties à la Convention de Genève et à son protocole.

    L'Asie du sud-est a pourtant connu l’une des plus grandes tragédies de l’histoire contemporaine avec la crise des réfugiés indochinois entre 1975 et 1997, qui a conduit au déplacement de plus 3 millions de personnes originaires du Cambodge, du Laos et du Vietnam. Sans avoir la même ampleur que durant cette crise, la question des réfugiés demeure aujourd’hui encore d’une brûlante actualité dans la région, en lien notamment avec les camps à la frontière entre la Thaïlande et le Myanmar, les dizaines de milliers de réfugiés urbains en Malaisie, ou les nouveaux boat people, qu’il s’agisse de ceux qui viennent du Myanmar et du Bangladesh ou de ceux qui tentent de rejoindre l’Australie. Le fait que les principaux États d’asile ne sont pas parties à la Convention de 1951 ou à son protocole soulève dans ces circonstances des inquiétudes à propos d’un éventuel « vide juridique » concernant la protection des réfugiés dans la région.

    Le présent ouvrage propose au lecteur une introduction et une analyse des principaux problèmes juridiques concernant la protection des réfugiés en Asie du sud-est. Il explore en détail la pratique en la matière des État d’accueil de la région, de la crise des réfugiés indochinois à nos jours. Loin de confirmer l’idée d’un « vide juridique », l’étude entend montrer, d’une part, qu’il existe bel et bien un cadre juridique assez conséquent en matière de protection des réfugiés, grâce notamment au développement du droit international des droits de l’homme. Elle entend démontrer, d’autre part, que la longue pratique des États d’Asie du sud-est reflète en réalité la reconnaissance d’un statut de facto distinct pour les réfugiés et demandeurs d’asile

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  • Chetail, V., P. De Bruycker and F. Maiani (eds.), Reforming the Common European Asylum System: The New European Refugee Law, Leiden/Boston, Brill Nijhoff, 2016.

    This book is aimed at analysing the recent changes of the Common European Asylum System, the progress achieved and the remaining flaws. The overall objective and key added value of this volume are to provide a comprehensive and critical account of the recast instruments governing asylum law and policy in the European Union.

    Chapter 1 The Common European Asylum System: Bric-à-brac or System? Vincent Chetail;
    Chapter 2 The Complex Relationship of Asylum and Border Controls in the European Union Elspeth Guild;
    Chapter 3 Negotiating the Second Generation of the Common European Asylum System Instruments: A Chronicle Patricia Van De Peer;
    Part II The Dublin Regulation
    Chapter 4 The Dublin III Regulation: A New Legal Framework for a More Humane System? Francesco Maiani;
    Chapter 5 Family Unity and Family Reunification in the Dublin System:
    Still Utopia or Already Reality? Ulrike Brandl;
    Chapter 6 The Dublin System, Solidarity and Individual Rights Madeline Garlick;
    Part III The Qualification Directive
    Chapter 7 Piecemeal Engineering: The Recast of the Rules on Qualification for International Protection Hemme Battjes;
    Chapter 8 Refugee Status and Subsidiary Protection:
    Towards a Uniform Content of International Protection? Céline Bauloz & Géraldine Ruiz;
    Part IV The Reception Conditions Directive
    Chapter 9 The European Union Reception Conditions: A Dignified Standard of Living for Asylum Seekers? Evangelia (Lilian) Tsourdi;
    Chapter 10 Reception Conditions as Human Rights:
    Pan-European Standard or Systemic Deficiencies? Jens Vedsted-Hansen;
    Chapter 11 Vulnerable Persons as a New Sub-Group of Asylum Seekers? Lyra Jakuleviciene;
    Part V The Asylum Procedures Directive
    Chapter 12 The Recast Asylum Procedures Directive 2013/32/EU:
    Caught between the Stereotypes of the Abusive Asylum-Seeker and the Vulnerable Refugee Cathryn Costello & Emily Hancox;
    Chapter 13 Legal Aid for Applicants for International ProtectionBarbara Mikołajczyk;
    Part VI Conclusion
    Chapter 14 Building the Common European Asylum System beyond Legislative Harmonisation: Practical Cooperation, Solidarity and External Dimension Philippe De Bruycker & Evangelia (Lilian) Tsourdi;

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  • Triandafyllidou, A. (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Immigration and Refugee Studies, London/New York, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2016.

    The Routledge Handbook of Immigration and Refugee Studies offers a comprehensive and unique study of the multi-disciplinary field of international migration and asylum studies. Utilising contemporary information and analysis, this innovative Handbook provides an in depth examination of legal migration management in the labour market and its affect upon families in relation to wider issues of migrant integration and citizenship.

    With a comprehensive collection of essays written by leading contributors from a broad range of disciplines including sociology of migration, human geography, legal studies, political sciences and economics, the Handbook is a truly multi-disciplinary book approaching the critical questions of:

    • Migration and the labour market
    • Integration and citizenship
    • Migration, families and welfare
    • Irregular migration
    • smuggling and trafficking in human beings
    • asylum and forced migration.

    Organised into short thematic and geographical chapters the Routledge Handbook of Immigration and Refugee Studies provides a concise overview on the different topics and world regions, as well as useful guidance for both the starting and the more experienced reader. The Handbook’s expansive content and illustrative style will appeal to both students and professionals studying in the field of migration and international organisations.

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  • D'Orsi, C., Asylum-seeker and Refugee Protection in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Peregrination of a Persecuted Human Being in Search of a Safe Haven, London/New York, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2016.

    It is not often acknowledged that the great majority of African refugee movement happens within Africa rather than from Africa to the West. This book examines the specific characteristics and challenges of the refugee situation in Sub-Saharan Africa, offering a new and critical vision on the situation of asylum-seekers and refugees in the African continent. Cristiano d'Orsi considers the international, regional and domestic legal and institutional frameworks linked to refugee protection in Sub-Saharan Africa, and explores the contributions African refugee protection has brought to the cause on a global scale. Key issues covered in the book include the theory and the practice of non-refoulement, an analysis of the phenomenon of mass-influx, the concept of burden-sharing, and the role of freedom fighters. The book goes on to examine the expulsions of refugees and the historical role played by UNHCR in Sub-Saharan Africa. As a work which follows the persecution and legal challenges of those in search of a safe haven, this book will be of great interest and use to researchers and students of immigration and asylum law, international law, human rights, and African studies.

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

    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.

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  • 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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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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  • Holzer, V., Refugees From Armed Conflict: The 1951 Refugee Convention and International Humanitarian Law, Cambridge/Antwerp/Portland, Intersentia, 2015.

    Armed conflicts are a major cause of forced displacement, but people displaced by conflict are often not recognised as refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention. They are frequently considered as having fled from generalised violence rather than from persecution.

    This book determines the international meaning of the refugee definition in Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Refugee Convention as regards refugee protection claims related to situations of armed conflict in the country of origin. Although the human rights-based interpretation of the refugee definition is widely accepted, the interpretation and application of the 1951 Refugee Convention as regards claims to refugee status that relate to armed conflict is often marred with difficulties. Moreover, contexts of armed conflict pose the question of whether and to what extent the refugee definition should be interpreted in light of international humanitarian law. This book identifies the potential and limits of this interpretative approach.

    Starting from the history of international refugee law, the book situates the 1951 Refugee Convention within the international legal framework for the protection of the individual in armed conflict. It examines the refugee definition in light of human rights, international humanitarian law and international criminal law, focusing on the elements of the refugee definition that most benefit from this interpretative approach: persecution and the requirement that the refugee claimant’s predicament must be causally linked to race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion

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  • Cherubini, F., Asylum Law in the European Union, London; New York, Routledge, Taylor and 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 ‘US Travel Ban’ from an International Law Perspective

    On January 27th, 2017, American President Donald Trump signed ‘Executive Order 13769’ titled Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorists Entry into the United States’. The purpose of this order is to place a limit on the number of refugees to be admitted into the United States in 2017. The order suspends the entry of foreign nationals from seven Muslim majority nations namely, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for a period of 90 days after which an updated list will be put in place. The order also indefinitely suspends nationals from Syria. This blog will briefly highlight the international legal implications.

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  • Interview Sigrid Kaag

    This month, we have the honor of interviewing Ms. Sigrid Kaag, a top Dutch diplomat who currently serves as a United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL). Last month, the Dutch Carnegie Foundation awarded Sigrid Kaag the Carnegie Wateler Peace Prize. Before the ceremony took place, we took the opportunity to interview Ms. Kaag to discuss her work at the UN, in particular, the succesful UN-OPCW joint mission Ms. Kaag led to eliminate the chemical weapons programme in Syria. We also discussed the role of international law in her daily work at the UN. Here’s what she had to say.

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  • The Case for Border Controls

    It is a legitimate right of sovereign states to control their borders. To achieve this, modern states have designed sophisticated immigration rules that use elaborate criteria such as nationality, age, diplomas, marital status and wealth to grant or refuse people the right to enter and settle. Both the ‘open’ and ‘closed’ border positions are unrealistic and do not justice to the complex realities of migration policy making, which is primarily about the selection of migrants, and not about numbers, despite muscle-flexing political rhetoric suggesting the contrary.

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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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Blogs and commentary on immigration, refugees and asylum.


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  • 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

EASO, Latest Asylum Trends - 2015 overview.

Eurostat, Asylum in the EU 2015.

UNHCR Mid-Year Trends 2015

UNHCR Asylum Trends 2014

UNHCR Statistical Yearbook 2014