The Law and Policy of Refugee Cities: Special Economic Zones for Migrants

30 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2018 Last revised: 15 Oct 2019

Date Written: 2018


Migration is quickly becoming one of the most pressing issues of our time. Conflict, persecution, natural disasters, and economic inequality are driving people from their homes in record numbers.

Meanwhile, traditional responses to mass migration are becoming increasingly inadequate. Recognizing this, some countries are exploring pragmatic pathways toward integrating migrants into economies. The special economic zone (“SEZ”) concept offers one potential path forward. SEZs are designated areas designed to promote development through a distinct policy and administrative framework. They can serve as vehicles for initiating beneficial policies when political obstacles stand in the way of nationwide reform.

Refugee cities would be a type of SEZ designed to facilitate migrant integration. They would be special-status jurisdictions in which displaced people — who would otherwise be barred from working — can be employed, start businesses, access finance, and rebuild their lives. Applying principles from SEZs, refugee cities could help countries benefit from migrants’ presence in a politically realistic manner. They could also deliver high-quality infrastructure, foreign direct investment, and improvements to the business environment.

Refugee cities would also serve as a pathway for countries to come into closer alignment with international law. Under the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (“Refugee Convention” and “1967 Protocol,” respectively), refugees are entitled to relatively strong rights regarding property, employment, and entrepreneurship. However, most countries’ domestic legislation falls well short of these rights.

This article explores these gaps to show how refugee cities could fill them by creating designated areas in which refugee rights are respected and the policy benefits of migrant integration are achieved. It covers the background of the global migration situation, the evolution and role of SEZs in the world, the refugee-cities concept and its policy benefits, and the international and domestic law pertaining to refugees, including a special focus on Turkey.

Keywords: public international law, humanitarian response, special economic zones, international economic development, refugee law, migration, forced displacement

Suggested Citation

Castle-Miller, Michael, The Law and Policy of Refugee Cities: Special Economic Zones for Migrants (2018). Chapman Law Review, Vol. 21, No. 2, 2018. Available at SSRN:

Michael Castle-Miller (Contact Author)

Politas ( email )

5792 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90016
United States


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