The Concept of “International Protection” in the Global Compacts on Refugees and Migration

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Abstract

The adoption in 2018 of two Global Compacts, one on Refugees and the other on Migration, has reinvigorated longstanding debates about the distinction between these two groups. On the one hand, differentiating between the two is crucial to ensuring that people forced to leave their homes are not removed to any place where they face a real risk of persecution or other serious harm. On the other hand, drawing a hard line between them does not reflect the current state of international law, nor the complex reasons that people move. This essay argues that, in the context of cross-border mobility, the most important distinction is not between refugees and migrants per se, but rather between those who require “international protection” and those who do not. Using the term “refugee” as shorthand for the former is no longer accurate or desirable, and risks arbitrarily privileging the rights of some forced migrants over others. A close reading of the Global Compacts reveals that both, in fact, recognize the importance of international protection and that States’ international protection obligations extend beyond any specific definition of a “refugee”. These obligations derive from the broader body of international refugee and human rights law that underpins, and should guide, the interpretation and application of the Compacts themselves. They include the core obligation not to remove (refouler) individuals to any place where they would face a real risk of persecution or other serious harm. Such principles must remain at the forefront of efforts to implement both Global Compacts, unobscured by nomenclature or neat categorizations.

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McAdam, J., & Wood, T. (2021). The Concept of “International Protection” in the Global Compacts on Refugees and Migration. Interventions, 23(2), 191–206. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369801X.2020.1854105

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