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Part I International Refugee Law— Reflections on the Scholarly Field, Ch.5 The Politics of International Refugee Law and Protection

Rebecca Hamlin

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: 24 February 2024


This chapter evaluates how politics and power dynamics permeate the story of international refugee law and protection. Historically, scholars of politics have been more likely to study the causes of displacement; there have been fewer studies focused on the politics of reception, that is, how displaced people are treated, processed, and categorized when they flee. Part of the explanation for this puzzling feature of the scholarly literature is that the discipline of political science has tended to study immigration politics as part of domestic politics, assuming immigrants are economically motivated, and bracketing refugees as a niche foreign policy issue. A further explanation is that international refugee protection is often assumed to be simply a legal matter, not shaped by politics. The chapter argues that the global refugee regime looks the particular way it does because powerful political forces and dynamics have shaped and constrained it. In order to understand the politics of international refugee law and protection, one cannot just look at the law itself. To understand what the law means in practice, one must examine protection law in the context of both international geopolitics and the domestic politics of border control, state formation, and ongoing nation-building. The chapter then outlines seven key facets of the politics of international refugee law and protection.

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