UCL Faculty of Laws


International and European Refugee Law (LAWS0310)

This module will provide a critical understanding of both the international and European regime of refugee protection.

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The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees is now over 70 years old. At the end of 2023 the UNHCR reported that the number of people forcibly uprooted by conflict and persecution stood at over 115 million worldwide - the highest level ever recorded and a 42 million increase in the last four years alone. In the last 5 years, over 12 million people sought refuge in Europe, while over 250,000 of them died trying to reach safety.  

Against this background, international debates continue regarding the nature of the protection that refugees should be granted, the role of the international community, and the obligations of receiving countries towards refugees. 

The first part of the module will cover the international legal framework for refugee protection, its main challenges and shortcomings. 

A review of key jurisprudence within international, regional, and national courts will provide an understanding of how refugee and asylum law is interpreted and implemented. Main areas of discussion will include international criteria for the attainment, exclusion and withdrawal of refugee status, the development of the non-refoulement principle, and the changing role of UNHCR. Subsequent seminars will explore the concept of complementary protection offered by other instruments of international law and the European Convention of Human Rights. 

The second half of the module will focus on the development of a Common European Asylum System by the European Union. The EU is the only example worldwide where a large number of countries are in the process of harmonising their national interpretation of international refugee protection obligations. 

Against the background of recent multiple refugee crises, the EU offers valuable insights into the difficulties that prevent a coherent application of refugee protection instruments. Where appropriate, comparisons will be drawn with other regions worldwide. Finally, the module will consider whether the 1951 Refugee Convention is still capable of adequately catering for refugee movements in the 21st century. 

By the end of the module, students should be in a position to: 

  • have assimilated the main principles of the international and European refugee regime and their applications in different contexts 
  • be familiar with the political, economic and human rights issues related to refugee studies 
  • master the understanding and application of the European refugee regime and of EU asylum instruments 
  • be able to critically evaluate the underpinnings of International Refugee Law and have developed an individual reform perspective 

Students will be expected to familiarise themselves with topics in advance of the seminars and to contribute to the seminars through discussion and debate groups. 

Module syllabus 

  • Week 1: Refugee Law in Context: the Evolution of International Refugee Protection and the Institutional Framework – Norms and actors 
  • Weeks 2 and 3: The definition of ‘refugee’ and the notion of ‘Protection’ 
  • Week 4: The evolving role and mandate of UNHCR – IDPs – new situations of displacement; Cessation and exclusion of refugee status 
  • Week 5: The non-refoulement principle, complementary protection and Human Rights 
  • Week 6: European Protection of refugees – the ECHR and other regional instruments 
  • Weeks 7, 8 and 9: The development of the EU competence on migration and the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) – Externalisation of asylum: Interception, interdiction and extraterritoriality issues in EU policy 
  • Week 10: Refugee protection and Human Rights: asylum, durable solutions and the reform of the international refugee system

Recommended materials 

  • Goodwin-Gill G. and McAdam J., The Refugee in International Law 4th edition (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 2021)
  • Hathaway J. and Foster M., The Law of Refugee Status 2nd edition (CUP, Cambridge, 2014) 

Module reading lists and other module materials will be provided via online module pages, available at the beginning of term once students have enrolled. 

Preliminary reading 

Key information

Module details
Credit value:22.5 credits (225 learning hours)
Convenor:Ingrid Boccardi
Other Teachers:None
Teaching Delivery:10 x 2-hour weekly lectures, Term One
Who may enrol:LLM students only
Must not be taken with:None
Qualifying module for:LLM in Law and Social Justice; 
LLM in International Law; 
LLM in Human Rights Law; 
LLM in Public Law 
Practice Assessment:Practice essay or detailed table of contents
Final Assessment:

Controlled Condition Exam (100%)