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Prof. Jim Hathaway 

Prof. Jim Hathaway Discusses the European Union and Refugee Rights During ILW Talk

By Lori Atherton
Nov. 6, 2012

A year ago, on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Refugee Convention, Prof. Jim Hathaway, a renowned authority on international refugee law, gave a presentation to an audience of European judges and officials in which he posed these thought-provoking questions: If you were forced to flee your country, where would you go? And why would you go there?

Prof. Hathaway, the James E. and Sarah A. Degan Professor of Law and director of the Program in Refugee and Asylum Law at Michigan Law, presented this same hypothetical to the audience gathered at Monday's International Law Workshop. His talk, "Is the European Union's Refugee Regime Really Legal?", focused on the EU's treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers and, in particular, its use of the country-of-first-arrival rule to determine where a refugee or asylum seeker will receive protection.

"If you make the mistake of flying through the wrong airport or entrusting yourself to a smuggler who docks you in the wrong port, that is the end of your journey," Prof. Hathaway said of the rule. "Whether that place is safe or fair, or whether you know anyone, is largely irrelevant under current European Union law. Such rules are really nonsensical from the optic of understanding why people go where they go. The ability to restart your life is significantly compromised if you go to a place where you can't function, don't know anyone, and have no support. With Europe this is not an understanding that resonates."

While the actual rules under the UN Refugee Convention allow refugees and asylum-seekers to decide where they wish to seek protection, Prof. Hathaway said the EU is invoking regional norms to tell refugees that they must seek protection in the first country of arrival.

"There is a mismatch between current EU standards and the remedies and actual requirements of international law by which Europe is bound and to which it has committed itself," Prof. Hathaway said. "The instruments that Europe has drawn up make it clear that the requirements of the UN Refugee Convention are supreme, and require that the EU enactments actually give voice to them, which, tragically, they do not."

Watch a video of Prof. Hathaway's talk, which includes comments from Nuala Mole, founder and senior lawyer at the AIRE (Advice ) Centre in London.


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