A Short History of International Refugee Law: The Early Years
Oxford Handbook of International Refugee Law, Oxford: Oxford University Press, Forthcoming
33 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2020
Date Written: March 21, 2020
One hundred years of law, organisation and practice lie behind today’s international refugee regime. Although it remains incomplete and faces challenges never quite anticipated before, the system was founded on certain basic and enduring principles – that refugees, being without national protection, were a matter of international concern; that international cooperation and coordination of effort were essential in responding to external displacement; that civil society was a key partner in those responses; and above all, and right from the start, that no refugee should be required to return to their country of origin unless he or she were assured of their security. Practice, in turn, further confirmed the self-evident truth, that protection was inextricably linked to lasting and effective solutions. There were failures, of course, and politics commonly skewed the equation, whether at the international level, in deciding who should and who should not be the beneficiaries of international concern; or at the national level, in framing policies governing the reception of refugees, and whether decent treatment would be forthcoming and human dignity upheld. International refugee law has proven itself capable of evolving to meet emerging protection needs, but it does not provide answers to every challenge or delineate clearly the lines of accountability. There is much yet to be done on the root causes of displacement, but a distinctly legal agenda, building on a substantial body of law and practice, is also calling for stronger and better protection of those moving between States in search of refuge.
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