The Movements of People between States in the 21st Century: An Agenda for Urgent Institutional Change

The international refugee regime has certainly evolved over the past 65 years, but fundamental challenges remain. On the one hand, an international organization (UNHCR – strictly speaking, a subsidiary organ of the UN General Assembly) with a global mandate to provide protection and seek solutions operates within a widely ratified treaty framework, together with a 98 Member State Executive Committee. On the other hand, notwithstanding the 2003 decision to put UNHCR on a permanent footing (‘until the refugee problem is solved’), the system overall continues very much as if it and the problems of displacement were still temporary. International cooperation is still largely ad hoc and unstructured; funding depends on voluntary contributions; the mechanisms for early warning, conflict prevention, and mediation are insufficient; and viable safe havens as alternatives to displacement are rarely considered, let alone initiated. More significantly, displacement-related challenges are compounded by States’ reluctance to ‘internationalize’ key aspects of the movement of people, with a view to the better and more humane management of migration. This paper proposes some structural changes to bring the international protection mandate into the 21st Century; in particular, the General Assembly should revise UNHCR’s 1950 Statute, not only to reflect its current responsibilities for refugees, internally displaced persons, and the stateless, and to reform the funding base, but also to extend its mandate to migrants without protection. No new treaty or organization is called for and international obligations would remain unchanged. However, working with such an experienced operational partner in the field, States would be free to develop a complementary legal or standards base on migration matters, which, currently, are commonly contested and obstructed by the lack of international cooperation.
Guy S. Goodwin-Gill Emeritus Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford; Emeritus Professor of International Refugee Law, University of Oxford; Honorary Associate, Refugee Studies Centre, Oxford; Barrister, Blackstone Chambers, London. Experts Group Working Paper

Goodwin-Gill, Guy S. The Movements of People between States in the 21st Century: An Agenda for Urgent Institutional Change. International Journal of Refugee Law, 2016, Vol. 28, No. 4, 679–694 doi:10.1093/ijrl/eew040