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Listen to the podcast of the 21 May seminar by Dr Michelle Foster (Melbourne Law School), part of the Trinity term 2014 Public Seminar Series

A range of emerging refugee claims involving poverty and economic disadvantage have called into question traditional distinctions between economic migrants and political refugees, thereby challenging us to think carefully about the underlying principles and purposes of refugee protection under both the Refugee Convention and international and regional human rights treaties. 

Assessing these claims in terms of the 1951 Refugee Convention presents a number of important conceptual challenges. An analysis of the contemporary treatment of claims based on economic deprivation reveals that, in the main, decision-makers have had little difficulty with the general proposition that a violation of economic and social rights may give rise to persecution, thus accepting the anterior proposition that economic and social rights are rights of considerable importance.

However, while displaying sensitivity to and awareness of the existence of economic, social and cultural rights in international law, the analysis reveals that in several fundamental ways, decision-makers’ approach to the assessment of these rights, most importantly in adopting a hierarchical approach which accords an inferior status to such rights, is considerably out-of-step with the theoretical and practical advancements that have been made in recent decades in according equal status and more precise normative content to economic and social rights in international law. 

In the context of more general non-refoulement obligations under international and regional human rights treaties, claims grounded in socio-economic deprivation raise fundamental questions concerning the proper scope of the implied non-refoulement concept, including how far it extends within the treaties to which it is most commonly applied, but also whether and to what extent it applies to other human rights treaties. In this seminar, Dr Foster examines the key conceptual challenges presented by claims based on socio-economic deprivation by reference to a wide range of jurisprudential developments in both refugee law and international human rights law. 

About the speaker

Dr Michelle Foster is an Associate Professor and Director of the International Refugee Law Research Programme in the Institute for International Law and the Humanities at Melbourne Law School. Dr Foster has published widely in the field of international refugee law including International Refugee Law and Socio-Economic Rights: Refuge from Deprivation (CUP 2007) and The Law of Refuge Status: Second Edition (with James Hathaway, CUP, forthcoming 2014).

Related content

Public Seminar Series  Events

Public Seminar Series, Trinity term 2014: The law and politics of forced migration News & Media

Oxford Podcasts: Refugee Studies Centre External