When those in need of international protection seek sanctuary, they often find themselves in sites of so-called refuge described as ‘grim’, ‘subhuman’ or ‘abominable’. In response, many refugees and asylum-seekers travel within and across borders in an attempt to secure what they believe to be a place of genuine sanctuary. While there are some studies of these journeys, none investigate the role courts play.
This is despite refugees and asylum-seekers in numerous jurisdictions increasingly turning to judicial and quasi-judicial bodies to ask for protection, not from persecution in their home country, but from a place of ‘refuge’. In my thesis I examine how decision-makers in Europe, Africa, North America and the South Pacific region approach and determine these ‘protection from refuge’ claims. In particular, I analyse judicial conceptualisations of refuge and how these may facilitate or impede refugees’ searches for sanctuary.
I argue that when such claims first come before courts, decision-makers adopt rich and robust ideas of refuge beyond basic notions of safety and survival; these judicial approaches enable large numbers of refugees to use courts to access places where they believe they can attain a sense of refuge. However, these legal victories are ephemeral.
In each jurisdiction, decision-makers transition from purposive and comprehensive understandings of refuge to rudimentary ones. These decisions obstruct refugees in their searches for sanctuary, perpetuate global inequities in refugee responsibility and ultimately render refuge elusive.
Kate Ogg is a PhD student at RegNet and a Senior Lecturer in the School of Law at the Australian National University. Her research focuses on refugee law, human rights law and feminist legal theory and she has published in leading Australian and international journals and edited collections in these fields.