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The modern refugee regime, created in the aftermath of World War II, provides protection mainly to people who flee individualized persecution or generalized violence. Subsequent to its creation, a range of new drivers of external displacement—particularly related to the interaction of environmental change, livelihood collapse, and state fragility—have emerged that fall outside the framework of the regime. In order to examine institutional responses to these people, this article develops the concept of survival migration, which describes people who have left their country of origin because of an existential threat for which they have no domestic remedy. It examines six case studies of national and international institutional responses to survival migrants from Zimbabwe, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which fall outside the 1951 Refugee Convention. Based on a conceptual model of regime stretching, the article offers an explanation for variation in the extent to which the existing global regime has adapted to address survival migration in different national contexts.

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Journal article


Lynne Rienner Publishers

Publication Date



16 (3)


361 - 382