Research Handbook on International Human Rights Law
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Research Handbook on International Human Rights Law

Edited by Sarah Joseph and Adam McBeth

This innovative and timely Handbook brings together the work of 25 leading human rights scholars from all over the world to consider a broad range of human rights topics.
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Chapter 9: Refugees and Displaced Persons: The Refugee Definition and ‘Humanitarian’ Protection

Susan Kneebone


Susan Kneebone* Humanitarian: Having regard to the interests of humanity or mankind at large.1 The vast majority of refugees are . . . unprotected under codified international law. They are ‘humanitarian’ refugees who seek shelter from conditions of general armed violence . . . or simply bad economic conditions.2 [H]umanitarianism is the ideology of hegemonic states in the era of globalisation marked by the end of the Cold War and the growing North–South divide . . . [T]he Northern commitment to humanitarianism coexists with a range of practices which violate its essence.3 1 Introduction The discussion in this chapter was inspired by a talk by a distinguished Italian academic who was agonising over Italy’s refugee ‘crisis’, which involves increased numbers of persons attempting to reach Italy by sea from North Africa and eastern Europe.4 In this speech the academic made use of a distinction between ‘refugees’ and ‘humanitarian entrants’. In particular, it was * My thanks to Karen Spitz for her research assistance in connection with this chapter, and to Sarah Joseph for her helpful comments. I am responsible for any remaining misconceptions. 1 C T Onions (ed), The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary On Historical Principles (3rd ed, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1973) 995. 2 K Hailbronner, ‘Non-Refoulement and “Humanitarian” Refugees: Customary International Law or Wishful Legal Thinking?’ (1985–86) 26 Virginia Journal of International Law 857. 3 B S Chimni, ‘Globalization, Humanitarianism and the Erosion of Refugee Protection’ (2000) 13 Journal of Refugee Studies 243. 4 Paola Totaro, ‘Italy’s island of hope to become a prison...

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