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This article explores access to refugee protection, which in practice means access to a place of refuge, in light of various barriers to protection erected by European States. First, European States increasingly extend their border controls beyond their territorial borders and co-operate in order to prevent those seeking protection from reaching their territory. Yet, legal obligations, in particular the principle of non-refoulement, may continue to apply to these activities, as the concept of ‘jurisdiction’ in human rights law develops. Second, they engage a further, diametrically opposed move, where they purport to act as a single zone of protection, and allocate responsibility for asylum claimants in a manner that also hinders access to protection. The aim of this article is to explore the recent responses of Europe’s two supranational courts, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR or ‘Strasbourg’) and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU or ‘Luxembourg’), in confronting these attempts to limit and manage access to protection in the EU. Its focus is the ECtHR ruling in Hirsi Jamaa v Italy (condemning Italy’s pushback of migrants intercepted on boats in the Mediterranean to Libya), as well as that in MSS v Belgium and Greece (concerning the Dublin system for allocation of responsibility for processing asylum claims) and the subsequent CJEU ruling in NS/ME.

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Journal article


Oxford University Press

Publication Date



12 (2)


287 - 339