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Law Relating to Refugee Rights – Global Legal Collection Highlights

The following is a guest post by Connie Johnson, a senior legal information analyst at the Law Library of Congress.  It is part of our Global Legal Collection Highlights series, in which we publish posts about materials in the Law Library’s collection related to particular topics or jurisdictions.

Aid to refugees planned at White House. Washington, D.C., April 13. Experts on the refugee problem shown leaving the White House today after conferring with President Roosevelt, the group met with the President to go over preliminaries to an international conference to help political refugees from Germany and Austria (Harris & Ewing, photographer, April 13, 1938) (Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division).

Aid to refugees planned at White House. Washington, D.C., April 13, 1938. Experts on the refugee problem shown leaving the White House today after conferring with President Roosevelt, the group met with the President to go over preliminaries to an international conference to help political refugees from Germany and Austria (Harris & Ewing, photographer). (Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division).

December 10 was international Human Rights Day.  Because the Library of Congress was closed on that day, we rescheduled our celebration to today, January 7, 2014.  As you may have seen from our previous blog and Facebook posts, this year the Law Library is marking Human Rights Day by hosting a panel discussion on issues surrounding the rights of refugees.  I therefore decided to share some information on recent acquisitions on refugees and the law in the Law Library’s collection.

Human rights are an important focus within the broad subject of law and the collection of materials in the Law Library on the topic is large and growing.  A search of the Library of Congress online catalog shows that there are more than 7,600 titles related to “human rights” and “law.”  The collection includes more than 170 titles specifically on refugees or asylum and the law.  These books cover a wide range of subjects, from the history of how sanctuary has been given in the past to present day practices in different countries, the situations of particular groups of refugees, and how international developments have an impact on the refugee experience.  Here are just a few of the interesting recent titles in the field that are available to be viewed at the Law Library:

In considering how European and other Western countries try to control the movement of refugees, this work looks at measures adopted by various states and their legal implications.  It covers the extraterritorial application of human rights conventions, asylum in international law and European Union law, stopping refugees at sea, and other topics.  An extensive bibliography is appended.

This study is by a non-governmental, human rights advocacy organization.  It discusses the situation of one set of refugees in the context of international relations and international law.

This work is designed to be a companion to the numerous books on law and migration issues published by Ashgate.  Part I has four essays on refugees under Europe’s free movement regime; Part II has essays on the safety of refugees and their rights in international law; and the rest of the chapters cover responsibilities to displaced populations, coercive treatment of those seeking asylum, and other topics related to migration.

The author points out that while migration in response to environmental changes is natural, people face barriers from national immigration laws, which may limit entrance only to those considered to be refugees or stateless persons.  Those without such status and without legal reasons to enter another country will face difficulties trying to move away from areas of environmental disaster or climate change.  The work discusses the relevance of international refugee law to climate change-related efforts and includes both a list of treaties and legislation and a bibliography.

The author discusses the impact of the decline of state power and the increasing role of non-state actors in the lives of people around the world, pointing out that many asylum seekers are fleeing situations of civil war, armed conflicts, or other problems that have weakened states.  The structure of international protection law is however oriented to state actors.  The volume contains an extensive list of related conventions and declarations, together with a bibliography.

From the perspective of an anthropologist, Rabben examines the idea of asylum and how it evolved.  After noting instances of chimpanzees and bonobos giving refuge to females from other groups when those females flee violent attacks, she traces the evolution of refugee policies among humans and considers the future of asylum as a universal human right.

The international agreements on refugees and their rights, notably the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (July 28, 1951) and the subsequent Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (Jan. 31, 1967) can be found in many print and online sources, including on the website of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  One handy print source for these and other human rights texts is:

We hope that you will join us for our event today at 1PM, follow along on Twitter, or watch the recording of the panel discussion when it becomes available.

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