Refugee Law (LAWS6198)


Refugee Law provides students with a practical and theoretical understanding of the development and operation of international refugee law, and forced migration more broadly. Forced migration is not a new phenomenon. What has changed over the last century is the scale and frequency of the conflagrations causing the mass movement of peoples and the ease with which individuals have become able to move around the world in search of protection. Although Australia's experience of direct refugee flows has been limited, it has not escaped the phenomenon of mobile refugees. Non-citizens who come uninvited and thereafter seek protection as refugees are the source of inordinate public concern and debate. The controversy arises in part from a sense of loss of control of immigration, and also from the cost of the processes available to asylum seekers fighting to remain here. Having signed and ratified the key international treaties, Australia has assumed certain international legal obligations with respect to refugees. The most important is the obligation not to return or 'refoule' a refugee to a place where she or he faces persecution on one of five grounds. This unit is designed to give students a critical understanding of the international legal regime of refugee protection. It begins with an overview of the evolution of refugee law at the international level, considering the various conceptualizations of refugeehood that have characterized international agreements from the period of the League of Nations through to the present day. The unit then turns to issues such as the definition of the term 'refugee' under international (and regional) law, the express exclusion of certain persons from refugee status, the rights and obligations accorded to refugees, the broadening of international protection through principles of human rights and humanitarian law ('complementary protection'), and the impact of terrorism on asylum procedures and eligibility. It considers attempts by States to restrict access to asylum through mechanisms such as carrier sanctions, interdiction, transit processing centres, detention, and 'safe third countries' to which asylum seekers may be removed. Contemporary protection concerns, such as mass influx situations and temporary protection, flight from generalized violence and civil war, internal displacement, burden-sharing, and the question of 'economic migrants' and 'environmental refugees', are also addressed. These considerations necessarily require an understanding of the role of international organizations such UNHCR, the mechanisms in place for refugee status determination and appeals in Australia and abroad, and the jurisprudence that has developed internationally and in Australia relating to the qualification and rights of asylum seekers, refugees and other persons in need of protection.

Our courses that offer this unit of study

Further unit of study information


Sep 1, 2 & 15, 16 (9-5)


class participation (30%) and 6000wd essay (70%)

Faculty/department permission required?


Study this unit outside a degree

Non-award/non-degree study

If you wish to undertake one or more units of study (subjects) for your own interest but not towards a degree, you may enrol in single units as a non-award student.

Cross-institutional study

If you are from another Australian tertiary institution you may be permitted to underake cross-institutional study in one or more units of study at the University of Sydney.