Refugee Protection Outside of the International Legal Framework: Expanding Cross-National and Cross-Disciplinary Collaborations

The workshop is funded though the NSF Law and Social Sciences program and will cover the costs of participation for those invited to attend. 

May 27-28, Center for Forced Migration Studies at the Buffett Center for International & Comparative Studies, Northwestern University, Evanston, USA

80% of the world’s refugees seek asylum in non-democratic states, or states that have not signed the 1951 International Convention for the Protection of Refugees and 1967 Protocol, do not have implementing legislation or, if they do, do not grant refugees rights as defined by the Refugee Convention. The Center for Forced Migration Studies at Northwestern University invites submissions for a two-day workshop designed to promote cross-disciplinary discussion and engage researchers, practitioners and policy makers in the theoretical and practical issues, the lessons to be learned and the strategies for achieving protection in these states, about which we know far too little.  The workshop seeks to build community and was intentionally designed in collaboration with the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration, the Refugee Research Network, the Asian Pacific Refugee Rights Network and the Southern Refugee Legal Aid Network. We seek to expand and broaden our knowledge community to advance theorizing about the meanings, rules or laws governing refugee status outside of the Refugee Convention framework, address empirical puzzles regarding how refugees and international refugee advocacy networks mobilize international and national law, and identify promising lines of inquiry regarding how national institutions define, mediate and respond to refugee legal concerns. These impacts are central both to theory-building concerning legal mobilization and decision making by institutions and to understanding where and how a refugee status determination process structures refugee lives.

As refugee crises increase in duration and frequency, there is growing reluctance by states, party to the Refugee Convention, to be held to the letter or spirit of the Convention. The dialogue advanced at the workshop will assist in mapping the future of protection outside strict Refugee Convention parameters and inform efforts to provide alternative statuses and processes of protection to refugees who are unable to access national asylum status. The workshop seeks to further future research collaborations to answer questions about the behavior, treatment of people and processes of refugee status determination and protection in these contexts and the methodology through which we might measure outcomes and understand how the decision not to ratify the Refugee Convention affects refugee protection and local integration. Having such knowledge will contribute to United States’ efforts, as well as those of other states, the UNHCR and other UN agencies and international organizations, to provide sustainable solutions for refugees, victims of armed conflict or natural disaster, and stateless people around the world.

The workshop seeks to draw not only established experts, but also new scholars, graduate students and voices of underrepresented regions and groups. We invite submissions from any discipline, methodology, or a combination of them, that address the workshop themes listed below, including, but not limited to:

–          Historical Legacies of Refugee Reception (papers that address how countries such as the United States received refugees prior to the passage of national legislation).

–          Alternative Legacies: The Experience of Partition and National Understandings of Refugees (papers that address the decision of countries at the time of the adoption of the 1951 Refugee Convention and/or 1967 Protocol not to become party to the Convention. What rationales did these decisions follow and how did these decisions relate to the experience of displaced populations at the time)

–          Formal Refugee Status Determination (RSD) Processes (papers that address, but are not limited to, the RSD process in transition/emerging systems such as Israel, Korea and Kenya; complementary forms of refugee protection such as temporary protected status; judicial decisions based systems in non-party states such as that in India)

–          Quasi-Legal Non-State Mechanisms and Informal RSD Processes (papers that address community based concepts of protection or hospitality, common law principles of non-refoulement; local instruments, agents and institutions that provide refugee protection in the absence of formal law; refugee survival strategies that become “quasi legal”)

–          Methods of Studying Socio-Legal Processes of Refugee Status in Local Contexts (papers that offer new methodological approaches to how we might understanding the costs and benefits of implementing an RSD process for the state and/or for the refugee seeking protection; methodological approaches to understanding the refugee experience of RSD in non-party states)


Northwestern University, Evanston, IL/USA


The workshop will have plenary sessions and working group sessions with lead participants/rapporteurs designed to promote an inclusive and interdisciplinary dialogue. A final session will allow for a “report back” of rapporteurs, recommendations and conclusions.


Galya Ruffer, Center for Forced Migration Studies & Dept. of Political Science, Northwestern University

Bruce Spencer, Department of Statistics, Northwestern University


James Simeon (York University), Jessica Therkelsen (Asylum Access & Vice-Chair of the Southern Refugee Legal Aid Network), Brian Barbour (Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network), David Cantor (Refugee Law Initiative), Roni Amit (African Centre for Migration and Society) and Danesh Jayatilaka (Final year PhD student University of Colombo/University of Sussex)


Please submit abstracts for papers or requests to serve as a lead participant by email to Abstracts should include a title, your contact details (name, affiliation, mailing address, email) and description of your workshop paper (250-400 words) or qualifications for serving as a lead participant/rapporteur.


Deadline for abstract submission: April 1st, 2014

Notification of Acceptance: April 15th, 2014

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