The Theater of Refuge

13 Tennessee Journal of Race, Gender, & Social Justice 1 Available at:

26 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2024

See all articles by Arléne Amarante

Arléne Amarante

Lincoln Memorial University School of Law

Date Written: November 28, 2023


At present, there are millions of mostly nonwhite men, women, and children who seek refuge and will not find it under asylum law. This is a calculated outcome and not an oversight. Asylum law functions as a theatrical production that masks the systematic exclusion of the global south under the guise of humanitarianism. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”) promulgates the internationally recognized definition of refugee, which was crafted to resettle displaced Europeans in the aftermath of the Second World War. The definition has never been meaningfully extended beyond the European context to include the general right to seek asylum as a member of the human family.

Like much of international law, asylum law was orchestrated by the global north to maintain the benefits of wealth and mobility that emanated from the colonial era. Exclusionary practices that reflect historical imbalances between the global north and south have long been normalized. As such, an asylum-seeker from the global south will likely be unsuccessful because their exclusion has been predetermined. Even though the United States bears responsibility for the conditions that necessitate migration, the exclusion persists.

Thus, the asylum regime is a performative façade that legitimizes the concerted exclusion of persons in need of refuge in ways that mirror colonial-era relationships among nations. By revealing the systemic biases in asylum law, this article calls for the acknowledgment and repudiation of the theater of refuge.

Keywords: UNHCR, Global Refugee Regime, CRT, TWAIL, Asylum Law, Apartheid

JEL Classification: K37 K33

Suggested Citation

Amarante, Arléne, The Theater of Refuge (November 28, 2023). 13 Tennessee Journal of Race, Gender, & Social Justice 1 Available at:, Available at SSRN:

Arléne Amarante (Contact Author)

Lincoln Memorial University School of Law ( email )

Harrogate, TN 37752
United States
8655455321 (Phone)

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics