Journal Article

Facing Up To Refugees — International Apathy and German Self-Help


in International Journal of Refugee Law

Volume 10, issue 3, pages 410-443
Published in print July 1998 | ISSN: 0953-8186
Published online July 1998 | e-ISSN: 1464-3715 | DOI:
Facing Up To Refugees — International Apathy and German Self-Help

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  • Human Rights and Immigration
  • Refugee Studies


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The end of the Cold War has not signalled the end of refugee flows, which are as much an international ‘problem’ as ever before. Some countries are relatively well protected from their impact, others less so, and it is increasingly clear that the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees offers little assistance to refugee-receiving States today. It fails in two ways, in particular, so far as the Convention definition does not cover all those who need protection, and secondly, because it does not help receiving States to deal efficiently with asylum seekers. The current law is too onerous for many States and, despite the significant number of accessions, emerging practice, particularly among west European States, suggests that a re-interpretation of obligations is underway. This article examines whether what might seem a selfish response can in fact be justified as an attempt to cope with the legal duties imposed by a treaty that now fails to take sufficient account of needs and interests. The hardening of responses poses real challenges to the Convention regime, and even to the principle of non-refoulemenl. This article evaluates, in particular, the practice of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) in the context of international law. Germany has been in the vanguard of legal developments in this field, and has had to cope with more asylum seekers than any other European country. Along with Germany, other western European States have established a legal regime which allows for a more coordinated response to the reception and assessment of asylum seekers; the overall effect of these developments invites a reassessment of the scope of obligations which they are prepared to accept, particularly given the costs involved and the problem of what to do with those who are unable or unwilling to return. The Convention relies on a system of individual State responsibility and is systemically flawed. Formal international co-operation has been lacking, and even those countries economically well-positioned to share in the burden have been reluctant to do so. Not surprisingly, some countries have started resorting to a form of self-help; Germany is a notable example, and has adopted a mixed policy of legislative amendments and bilateral and regional arrangements. The lesson to be drawn from this practice i that a truly effective and humanitarian application of the 1951 Convention regime is only likely to be achieved if States respond together and systematically to mass movements of refugees.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: Human Rights and Immigration ; Refugee Studies

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