Seminar given on 4th June 2014 by Dr Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen (The Danish Institute for Human Rights), part of the Trinity term 2014 Public Seminar Series
International refugee law, in particular the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, is often taken as constitutive for national refugee and asylum policy. It places a legal constraint upon signatory states against the otherwise well-established right to decide who may enter and remain on its territory, and through both the definition and rights catalogue it sets a standard that is reflected in domestic law across the globe. The last twenty-five years, however, have seen an increased politicisation of asylum across both traditional and new asylum countries. Many countries have introduced a broad array of procedural and physical deterrence mechanisms to prevent refugees from reaching their destination or accessing full asylum procedures. Dr Gammeltoft-Hansen's talk takes this growing set of non-entrée practices as a critical case for examining the continued role of international law in refugee policy. Over the last two decades, many of the traditional non-entrée practices have been legally challenged. Rather than abandoning non-entrée, states have instead turned their attention to a new generation of deterrent regimes intended to overcome these legal objections. Much, if not most, of the work of deterrence is now taking place in the territory – or at least under the formal authority of – poorer states of origin and transit, which for economic, political or other reasons are often willing to serve as the gatekeepers to the developed world. Dr Gammeltoft-Hansen sets out this new generation of non-entrée and the legal avenues that must be pursued to constrain them. Secondly, he revisits the dominant accounts of the interplay between international law and politics, suggesting that we need to view this relationship more dynamically. International refugee law neither serves merely to contain politics, nor does it become obsolete when no longer backed by realpolitik. Rather, legal interpretation and policy in this area have developed in a dialectic process of mutual action and reaction where international refugee law equally works to constrain and drive refugee policy.