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This introductory Article sets out the premise of the Special Issue, the entrenched and pervasive nature of human rights violations in the context of migration control and the apparent lack of accountability for such violations. It sets out features of contemporary migration control practices and their legal governance that contribute to this phenomenon, namely the exceptional treatment of migration in international law; the limited scope of international refugee law; and the pervasive use of externalized, delegated migration controls, in particular by the EU and its Member States. The roots of the current condition are traced back to the containment practices that emerged at the end of the Cold War, with the 2015 “crisis” framed both as an illustration of the failures of containment, and a source of further stasis. Following an overview of the contributions that make up the Special Issue, this Article identifies five emergent themes, and suggests further lines of inquiry. These are: the promise and limits of strategic human rights limitations; the role of both international criminal law, and domestic (and regional) tort law in securing accountability; the turn to positive obligations to challenge entrenched features of containment; and the role of direct action in support of and solidarity with those challenging migration controls most directly, refugees and migrants themselves. Rather than offering panaceas, the Article concludes with the identification of further new challenges, notably the role of new technologies in further dissipating lines of accountability for decisions to exclude.

More information Original publication




Journal article


Cambridge University Press

Publication Date





311 - 334


Migration; refugees; litigation; human rights; International law