Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



This Article will survey and assess the attempts of five of the major refugee receiving countries of the West, the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, and Italy, to comply with the mandates of the Convention and Protocol. Specifically, inquiry will focus on the two issues most applicable to the admission and exclusion of political refugees: (1) domestic interpretation of the Convention definition of "refugee;" and (2) adherence to the principle of nonrefoulement, which is the Convention's proscription on returning persons falling within its refugee definition to countries of alleged persecution.

Section II explores the precise substantive provisions of the Convention and Protocol on these matters. Section III briefly surveys implementing municipal legislation and regulation of refugee admission and exclusion and the interrelationship of these with international treaty law. Section IV presents a detailed analysis of domestic administrative procedures because the breadth or narrowness of a state's construction of the Convention definition of "refugee" and the consequent binding or nonbinding nature of the nonrefoulement provision may be largely a function of the peculiar strengths or weaknesses of its administrative refugee determination processes.

Finally, Section V reveals that local interpretation of the Convention definition of refugee varies considerably among the contracting states. This results in the application of conflicting standards, so that a person recognized as meeting the criteria for refugee status in one country may be denied refugee status in another country. The major stumbling blocks to a more uniform set of international standards are the divergent interpretations accorded the term "well-founded fear." Other factors, including whether the reasons for the refugee's persecution fit within one of the five grounds specified in the refugee definition, significantly burden the refugee determination decision. These extra-legal motivations often result in flagrant discrimination against bonafide and otherwise qualified refugees and, aside from constituting actual or potential violations of its provisions, considerably impair the Convention's efficacy as a tool for the standardization of refugee law and practice.