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Asylum: Theory, law and practice of the international protection of refugees - LAW00066H

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  • Department: The York Law School
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Martin Jones
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

This module explores the theory, legal frameworks, and practice of providing asylum to refugees. It examines the conceptual debates, the sources of law, the development of international institutions and practical challenges related to contemporary responses to international forced migration.

Professional requirements


Related modules

Students may not take this module if they have taken the post-graduate module of the same name.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

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 the interconnected 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 the development of the international refugee regime including its flagship organisation the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We will examine the ways in which refugees are supported (or not) in their movements, by international organisations, private businesses, states and civil society. 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 actors involved in refugee protection, in particular the legal community, seek to ensure refugees enjoy the rights to which they are entitled. We will examine the process of law reform (and development of national asylum systems), the use of strategic litigation, and the challenge of implementing legal programming that is genuinely empowering.

Module learning outcomes

This module gives students a contextualized understanding of how refugees are governed in theory and in practice, at local, 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):

  • Understanding of the situations which lead to and experience of international displacement;
  • Conduct research on, understand 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,
  • 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) and receive feedback on their formative assessment by the end of the taught portion of the module. Feedback on the summative assessment 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.