Contemporary Issues in Refugee Law

Contemporary Issues in Refugee Law

Edited by Satvinder Singh Juss and Colin Harvey

Refugee law is going through momentous times, as dictatorships tumble, revolutions simmer and the ‘Arab Awakening’ gives way to the spread of terror from Syria to the Sahel in Africa. This compilation of topical chapters, by some of the leading scholars in the field, covers major themes of rights, security, the UNHCR, international humanitarianism and state interests and sets out to map new contours.

Chapter 3: Is humanity enough? Refugees, asylum seekers and the rights regime

Colin Harvey

Subjects: law - academic, human rights, public international law


The protection of refugees and asylum seekers is an established part of a wider global conversation about how we treat all human beings with equal concern and respect. Those displaced by human rights abuses rely on more inclusive notions of the suffering others we owe responsibilities towards in our world – whether these ideas are captured in law or not. Moral, humanitarian and other considerations have evolved into a substantial body of legal standards which are directly addressed to the ‘person’. International law, supranational law, national law, and many other normative orders, reflect a universalist ambition to secure guarantees for all. The implication of these legal trends is precisely this: what really matters is not a ‘constructed status’ but the fact of humanity itself. Each person possesses, simply by virtue of her personhood, intrinsic human dignity. This can be contrasted with approaches which stress communal membership, belonging and national status as fundamental to the rights, responsibilities and entitlements of individuals. Human beings are situated selves but does that make our plight utterly context- dependent or can we draw on standards that all share in common whatever borders we may or may not have crossed? Why is this of interest here? The aim in this chapter is to explore the interaction between an international legal regime that continues to place great store by the fact of a legally imagined status, and a globalized practice of human rights that underlines the centrality of inclusive guarantees. A universal needs-based assessment (‘need’ here defined as anyone experiencing human rights violations)

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