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The Normative Terrain of the Global Refugee Regime

  • Alexander Betts


The global refugee regime encompasses the rules, norms, principles, and decision-making procedures that govern states' responses to refugees. It comprises a set of norms, primarily those entrenched in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which defines who is a refugee and the rights to which such people are entitled. It also comprises an international organization, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has supervisory responsibility for ensuring that states meet their obligations toward refugees.



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1 Gil Loescher, The UNHCR and World Politics: A Perilous Path (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001); and Alexander Betts, Gil Loescher, and James Milner, UNHCR: The Politics and Practice of Refugee Protection (Abingdon, U.K.: Routledge, 2012).

2 Alexander Betts, Protection by Persuasion: International Cooperation in the Refugee Regime (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009).

3 Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality (New York: Basic Books, 1983).

4 Hardin, Gerrett, “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case against Helping the Poor,” Psychology Today 8, no. 4 (1974).

5 John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (New York: Belknap, 1974).

6 Joseph Carens, The Ethics of Immigration (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 64.

7 Matthew Gibney, The Ethics and Politics of Asylum: Liberal Democracy and the Response to Refugees (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

8 Seyla Benhabib, The Rights of Others (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

9 Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 2002).

10 Emma Haddad, The Refugee in International Society (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

11 Suhrke, Astri, “Burden-Sharing during Refugee Emergencies: The Logic of Collective versus National Action,” Journal of Refugee Studies 11, no. 4 (1998), pp. 396415 .

12 Betts, Protection by Persuasion.

13 Alexander Betts, Louise Bloom, Josiah Kaplan, and Naohiko Omata, Refugee Economies: Rethinking Popular Assumptions (Oxford: Humanitarian Innovation Project, 2014).

14 Christine Korsgaard, Self-Constitution: Agency, Identity, and Integrity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

15 Matthew Price, Rethinking Asylum: History, Purpose, and Limits (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

16 Durieux, Jean-François, “Three Asylum Paradigms,” International Journal on Minority and Group Rights 20, no. 2 (2013), pp. 147–77.

17 James Hathaway, “Is Refugee Status Really Elitist? An Answer to the Ethical Challenge,” in Jean-Yves Carlier and Dirk Vanheule, eds., Europe and Refugees: A Challenge? (The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1997); and Hathaway, James, “Forced Migration Studies: Could We Agree Just to ‘Date’?Journal of Refugee Studies 20, no. 3 (2007), pp. 349–69.

18 Matthew Gibney, “Should We Privilege Refugees?” Paper Presented at Refugee Studies Centre's 30th Anniversary Conference on Global Refugee Policy, Oxford University, December 6, 2013.

19 Alexander Betts, Survival Migration: Failed Governance and the Crisis of Displacement (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013).

20 Henry Shue, Basic Rights: Subsistence, Affluence, and U.S. Foreign Policy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980).

21 Shacknove, Andrew, “Who is a Refugee?Ethics 95, no. 2 (1985), pp. 274–84.

22 Jørgen Carling (2015) “Refugees are Also Migrants. And All Migrants Matter,” available at:

23 UNHCR, Global Trends Report: Forced Displacement in 2014, June 18, 2015.

24 This is a paraphrasing of the logic outlined in David Cameron's announcement to House of Commons that the United Kingdom would resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees, but only from camps in the region, September 7, 2015.

25 Alexander Betts and James Milner, “The Externalisation of EU Asylum Policy: The Position of African States,” COMPAS Working Paper No. 36 (2006).

26 Betts, Alexander and Collier, Paul, “Help Refugees to Help Themselves: Give Displaced Syrians Access to Labor Markets,” Foreign Affairs 94, no. 6, (November/December 2015).

27 Alexander Betts, “Is Creating a New Nation for the World's Refugees a Good Idea?” Guardian, Development Professionals Network, August 4, 2015,

28 Carens, The Ethics of Immigration.

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The Normative Terrain of the Global Refugee Regime

  • Alexander Betts


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