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Part I International Refugee Law— Reflections on the Scholarly Field, Ch.1 International Refugee Law in the Early Years

Guy S Goodwin-Gill

From: The Oxford Handbook of International Refugee Law

Edited By: Cathryn Costello, Michelle Foster, Jane McAdam

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved.date: 28 February 2024

History of international law — Asylum — Non-refoulement — International co-operation

This chapter traces the history of international refugee law, taking the creation of the League of Nations in 1920 as the point of departure. The early years of international refugee law achieved much in the way of internationalizing and institutionalizing the responsibilities of the community of nations in matters of common concern; they began with innate recognition of the basic principle of protection that no one should be sent back to conditions in which they would be at risk of harm. The early history ‘struggled’ thereafter with delimiting the scope and numbers of those who might or should benefit from international action, sometimes for self-interested reasons, or because of the costs, or for political reasons, or because of a felt need to discourage exile as a solution to national problems. Only in 1967 was a refugee definition finally agreed that could be generalized across time and space, and even then it remained limited to those with a well-founded fear of being persecuted for particular reasons. State practice and customary international law had already moved ahead, however, even if the normative framework of response remained patchy.

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