Transforming refugees into migrants: institutional change and the politics of international protection

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Since the 2015 refugee “crisis,” much has been made of the distinction between the legal category of refugee and migrant. While migration scholars have accounted for the increased blurring of these two categories through explanations of institutional drift and policy layering, we argue that the intentional policies utilized by states and international organizations to minimize legal avenues for refugees to seek protection should also be considered. We identify four practices of policy “conversion” that have also led to the increasingly problematic distinction between migrants and refugees: (1) limiting access to territory through burden-shifting and other practices of extraterritorialization; (2) limiting access to asylum and local integration through procedural and administrative hindrances; (3) the use of group-based criteria as a basis of exclusion; (4) the inclusion of non-Convention criteria within resettlement schemes. Drawing upon a historical institutionalist approach and a wide array of empirical sources—including 3 years of combined primary field research conducted in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey between 2013 and 2016—we demonstrate that states are actively pursuing a greater degree of control over the selection of refugees, in practice making refugee resettlement closer to another immigration track rather than a unique status that compels state responsibility.




Mourad, L., & Norman, K. P. (2020). Transforming refugees into migrants: institutional change and the politics of international protection. European Journal of International Relations, 26(3), 687–713.

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