Strengthening the Principle of Non-Refoulement

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2 Citations (Scopus)


This work examines the origins of the principle of non-refoulement and how it has evolved during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Non-refoulement, or the right not to be repelled or returned, was agreed upon by States as a narrow protection against the return to certain death for all refugees in 1951, as part of the Refugee Convention. Although 1951 marked the inception of non-refoulement as a legal principle, there is evidence to show that it existed in some form previously, through examining religious texts and early writings on international law. However, its adoption by human rights law has meant that the principle has been expanded and has departed significantly from the intention of the original drafters. This is problematic for both refugee law and human rights law: it encourages narrower and narrower interpretations of the right to non-refoulement by States, as shown below, because of the intense concerns States have, and always have had, around mass migration. This work argues for an understanding of the principle of non-refoulement as intended in the 1951 Refugee Convention, to prevent its conflation with the right to asylum and thereby its erosion through ever more limited interpretations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1032-1052
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Human Rights
Issue number6
Early online date26 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2021


  • non-refoulement
  • international law
  • refugee law
  • human rights law


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