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This article explores the impact of institutional proliferation on the politics of refugee protection. The refugee regime mainly comprises the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Recently, however, new parallel and overlapping institutions have emerged in relation to two previously unregulated areas: internally displaced persons (IDPs) and international migration. This institutional proliferation has affected both state strategy and IO strategy in relation to refugee protection. It has enabled Northern states to engage in regime shifting. They have used the new institutions to prevent refugees reaching their territory, thereby avoiding incurring UN rules on refugee protection, and transferring burdens to Southern states. The resulting reduction in international cooperation in the refugee regime has contributed to UNHCR fundamentally redefining its strategy in order to become more relevant to Northern states. In particular, it has pursued states into the migration and IDP regimes into which they have shifted through a combination of stretching its mandate, engaging in the politics of the emerging regimes, and issue-linkage. The article's analysis draws attention to the potentially significant relationship between institutional proliferation and IO adaptation and change.

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Journal article


Cambridge University Press

Publication Date



7 (1)


53 - 58