UCL Faculty of Laws


The international protection of refugees and asylum seekers: new thinking, or no future?

25 February 2016

Written by Gaiane Nuridzhanian, PhD student, Faculty of Laws

On 24 February 2016 Professor Guy Goodwin-Gill, Emeritus Professor of International Refugee Law at the University of Oxford, spoke at UCL about the current migrant crisis and the new approaches to employing the existing framework of international protection of refugees and asylum seekers to overcome it.

According to Professor Goodwin-Gill, one of the gaps of the current international legal system for refugee and asylum seekers protection lies in the failure to establish a framework based on co-operation and reciprocity. Indeed, such basic instruments as the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees do not contain provisions, which identify a specific state responsible for assisting a refugee or asylum seeker or a third state that should extend its co-operation to the refugee receiving state. The system can be improved by refining the existing institutions rather than by revising the treaty base. For instance, revising the UNHCR statute to expressly include stateless and internally displaced persons within its mandate, providing proper funding for the UNHCR, enhancing UN inter-agency co-operation and devising an early-warning system to be managed by the UN bodies.

In comparison, the European common legal framework for refugee protection does refer to ‘co-operation’, ‘solidarity’ and ‘fair sharing of responsibility’. However, lack of effective central management and of equal distribution of responsibility among the States in practice lead to a situation where only few States carry the burden in the situation of crisis.  The same equal sharing approach is in reality lacking from the EU’s relations with transit and sending States.

Professor Goodwin-Gill concluded that the EU response to the migrant crisis is based on ‘control’ rhetoric – rapid curtailment of the migrant flow, safeguarding the Schengen area and implementing the action plan in Turkey. It should be based instead on the principle of protection: rapid identification and assessment of the needs of asylum seekers, temporary and permanent protection solutions, provision of adequate reception facilities, combatting smuggling and trafficking, mitigating root causes as well as proximate causes and ensuring better management by way of collaboration. Finally, it should be founded on the basic language of the UN Charter which speaks of equality among States and international co-operation.