How does international law protect migrants? For the most part, it does not. Of the millions of people who flee persecution, conflict, and poverty each year, international law protects only refugees: those who flee persecution on the basis of religion, race, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees provides critical protections for minorities that must never be diluted. However, it is insufficient to protect the swarms of migrants landing on the shores of Europe and elsewhere, or to guide states on how to protect them while guarding their own security. This article argues that states have always revised international law regarding displaced people to protect their own security interests and changing circumstances of displacement. The time is thus ripe for the creation of an additional instrument of international law to protect the 35 million displaced people who do not meet the definition of “refugee.” To support this argument, this article presents a comprehensive history of refugees in international law, combining primary sources and original interview data to trace how states have used refugee law to protect minority rights, even as state security interests have changed refugee protection over time. In doing so, the article makes two theoretical claims that contribute to growing scholarly interest in the history of human rights law. First, the article argues that refugee law is paradigmatic human rights law, although it is often excluded from the human rights canon. Second, the article claims that refugee law predates the modern human rights regime, challenges its foundations, and extends its claims to universality.
About the Migration Network Hub
What is the Migration Network Hub?
The Hub is a virtual “meeting space” where governments, stakeholders and experts can access and share migration-related information and services. It provides curated content, analysis and information on a variety of topics.
The Hub aims to support UN Member States in the implementation, follow-up and review of the Global Compact for Migration by serving as a repository of existing evidence, practices and initiatives, and facilitating access to knowledge sharing via online discussions, an expert database and demand-driven, tailor-made solutions (launching in 2021).
What content is displayed in the Hub?
The Hub aims to help you find information on migration, ranging from policy briefs and journal articles, existing portals and platforms and what they offer, to infographics and videos. The different types of resources submitted by users undergo peer review by a panel of experts from within the UN and beyond, before being approved for inclusion in the Hub. To provide guidance to users based on findings of the needs assessment, the content is ordered so that more comprehensive and global resources are shown before more specific and regional ones. Know a great resource? Please submit using the links above and your suggestion will be reviewed. Please see the draft criteria for existing practices here.
Apply to join the Peer Review Roster
Content submitted to the Migration Network Hub is first peer reviewed by experts in the field from both the UN and beyond. Applications are welcomed to join the roster on an ongoing basis. Learn more here.
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