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Law of Asylum - LAW00008M

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  • Department: The York Law School
  • Module co-ordinator: Mr. Martin Jones
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20
    • See module specification for other years: 2018-19

Module summary

This module explores the legal frameworks and practices relating to the international protection of refugees.  It examines the various sources of law and practical challenges in implementing the law and the conceptual debates surrounding legal responses to forced migration.

Professional requirements


Related modules

Students may not enroll in the module if they have taken the undergraduate module of the same name.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2019-20

Module aims

At a time of rising xenophobia and nationalism in many parts of the globe, the universalism of much of human rights law and policy is undermined by human tendencies to divide and categorize.  Frequent use of terms such as “citizen” and the inattention to situations in which non-citizens find themselves belies the idea that all persons are entitled to a fundamental set of human rights; and categories such as “refugee,” “migrant worker,” and even “woman” or “child” are treated as mutually exclusive despite the obvious truth that all of us bear multiple identities.  This module will examine the way these phenomena impact a pressing issue of our time — unprecedented levels of forced displacement across national lines — and what implications this has for implementation of the legal frameworks that theoretically govern refugees at national, regional and global levels.  

The module will begin by examining three interconnected areas: debates over the legal and popular meaning (and membership) of the category of “refugee”; the tension between particular aspects of identity (such as refugee status, gender, or economic role) and more universal claims for human rights; and, the role of different levels of government (and law) in regulating these debates and tensions.  The module will examine the ability of refugees to enjoy putatively universal rights, such as the right to equal protection of the law; rights ostensibly guaranteed to refugees, such as free movement; and rights they ostensibly hold due to other facets of their identity (as workers, children, or members of other groups).

The module will then explore how refugees’ human rights are implemented in practice, examining a selected sample of countries including wealthy industrialized nations with few refugees; both poor and middle-income nations that serve as destination countries for large numbers of refugees; and nations located at geographic crossroads, which serve as both destination and transit countries (with narratives often diverging from reality).  Refugee status determination and other legal status issues will be reviewed, as will the substantive rights that follow (or don’t) from such determination.  Finally, the course will consider how the global human rights enforcement and refugee response systems interact with the policies and practices of nations in implementing — or ignoring — refugees’ human rights. 

Module learning outcomes

This module gives students a contextualized understanding of how refugees are governed in theory and in practice, at national, regional and global levels. By the end of the module, students should be able to satisfy the following learning outcomes (listed along with elaborations):

  • Comprehensive understanding of the situations which lead to and experience of international displacement;
  • Conduct research on, develop a nuanced understanding of, and be able to critically assess the national, regional and international legal instruments and legal frameworks (and their interrelation) which govern the rights of refugee;
  • Identify the challenges and opportunities posed by the implementation of these legal instruments and frameworks and their dynamic relations with advocacy on these issues; and,
  • Understand the different interests and concerns of various stakeholders, including refugee communities, refugee rights’ organisations, national governments, and international organisations such as UNHCR.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will complete a formative assessment (proposal outline) in Weeks 3 to 7 and receive feedback on their formative assessment by Week 10.  Feedback on the summative assessment (due Week 1 of Term 3) will be provided in line with Departmental guidelines and practice.

Indicative reading

In terms of general readings, the following may be useful and interesting:

  • Brian Opeskin, Richard Perruchoud, and Jillyanne Redpath-Cross, eds. Foundations of International Migration Law (Cambridge University Press, 2012). [an excellent edited collection with chapters addressing most major categories of international migration law written by experts on each category]

  • Stephen Castles and Mark Miller The Age of Migration (4th ed.) (Guilford Press, London, 2009) [a key text in the field of migration studies, co-authored by two prominent academics, also a reading in Week 2]

  • Robin Cohen, ed. The Cambridge Survey of World Migration (Cambridge University Press, 2010) [an excellent edited collection of essays on historical population movements from the 16th to 21st century; provides a broader sociological view of migration]

  • Douglas S. Massey, Joaquin Arango, Graeme Hugo, Ali Kouaouci, Adela Pellegrino, and J. Edward Taylor Worlds in Motion: Understanding International Migration at the End of the Millennium (Oxford University Press, 2005) [a detailed examination of regional, largely labour, migration within regional migration “subsystems”]

  • Andreas Zimmermann, ed. The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol: A Commentary (Oxford University Press, 2011) [an article-by-article review of the contents of the Refugee Convention]

  • Michelle de Kretser, Questions of Travel (Allen & Unwin, 2013) [a complex novel truly for and about our times on tourists, refugees and the complexities of immigration, praised by A S Byatt as “a novel unlike any other I have read”]

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): changes to courses

The 2020/21 academic year will start in September. We aim to deliver as much face-to-face teaching as we can, supported by high quality online alternatives where we must.

Find details of the measures we're planning to protect our community.

Course changes for new students