Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



The international community rose to the challenge of addressing mass migration with the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention). The 1951 Convention established several important concepts as binding international law, including the requirements for refugee classification and the principle of non-refoulement. The duty of non-refoulement prohibits state-parties from expelling or returning a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers or territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. According to the definition in Article 33, non-refoulement is applicable only where there is an affirmative classification of refugee status as articulated in Article 1. The 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol are currently the guiding instruments on refugee law, and the 1951 Convention provides a minimum foundation for the rights of refugees.

Even though the 1951 Convention clearly outlines non-refoulement as an obligation of the 133 state signatories, the international debate focuses on the correct interpretation and scope of the principle in practice. A restrictive reading of Article 33 suggests that non-refoulement has narrow application to only those refugees who have already entered the territory of a receiving state. Opponents to the restrictive reading of Article 33, however, maintain the duty of non-refoulement is limited only by the affirmative classification of refugee status--the 1951 Convention imposes no other restrictions or requirements for persons seeking asylum.