Protecting Recognized Geneva Convention Refugees Outside Their Countries of Asylum

(2013) 25(2) International Journal of Refugee Law 235-264

30 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2015 Last revised: 30 Sep 2015

See all articles by Reuven (Ruvi) Ziegler

Reuven (Ruvi) Ziegler

University of Reading School of Law; Refugee Studies Centre; Refugee Law Initiative; University of Johannesburg Faculty of Law

Date Written: July 1, 2013


This article highlights the predicament of persons recognized as refugees according to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (CSR1951 refugees) when they travel outside their state of asylum. Their status entails ipso facto that, if they are ill-treated abroad, they cannot turn to representatives of their state of nationality and request its diplomatic protection, nor can they expect to receive its consular assistance. It is submitted that a state of asylum ought to extend the scope of protection that it offers CSR1951 refugees residing in its territory, and provide them diplomatic protection and consular assistance when they travel abroad as if they were its nationals. Four claims are advanced in support of this contention: First: the advent of human rights treaties has not rendered obsolete the protection of nationals abroad nor has the practice fallen into disuse. On the contrary, protection abroad retains its pedigree and significance, as is illustrated by the recently adopted International Law Commission's Draft Articles on Diplomatic Protection and by frequent resort to consular assistance. Second: while states previously enjoyed unfettered discretion concerning whether and when to protect their nationals abroad, recent developments in domestic jurisdictions as well as in European Union (EU) treaties point to the potential emergence of a qualified duty to exercise state protection or to be willing to provide justifications for its refusal. These developments call particular attention to the vulnerability of CSR1951 refugees: the professed aim of the EU treaty regime is that EU citizens should enjoy effective state protection wherever they travel; by contrast, CSR1951 refugees are in need of state protection wherever they travel. Third: according to CSR1951, states of asylum are required to issue Convention Travel Documents (CTDs) to recognized refugees lawfully staying in their territory. While CTDs do not in of themselves authorize states of asylum to provide protection abroad to their CSR1951 refugees, they reflect partial recognition of the instrumental role of these states in facilitating safe refugee travel. Fourth: while the 'nationality of claims' requirement remains pivotal to the institution of diplomatic protection, and efforts to effectuate its general relaxation have thus far failed, the International Law Commission (ILC) has 'carved out' an exception authorizing states of asylum to provide protection abroad to their recognized refugees. The ILC's protection-enhancing agenda, reflecting progressive development of the law, is laudable, even though it has opted for a rather cautious approach.

Keywords: 1951 Convention, Refugees, Convention Travel Document, Diplomatic Protection, Consular Assistance

Suggested Citation

Ziegler, Reuven, Protecting Recognized Geneva Convention Refugees Outside Their Countries of Asylum (July 1, 2013). (2013) 25(2) International Journal of Refugee Law 235-264 , Available at SSRN:

Reuven Ziegler (Contact Author)

University of Reading School of Law ( email )

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