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Abstract: The international standard of providing protection to a category of people who have crossed state borders and fit the legal definition of ‘refugee’ is a rights-based construction fashionable in public discourse at present. Middle Eastern constructions of duty-based obligations to the guest, stranger, and person-in-need are, however, less well understood. This article explores the disconnect between international rights-based protection approaches to refuge and duty-based asylum (karam) commonly accepted in Middle Eastern societies. Returning to an exploration of Marcel Mauss’ Essay on the Gift, it asks whether we are abrogating our moral responsibilities when we permit a ‘rights-based approach’ to asylum to prevail. In other words, when we mainstream ‘rights’ do we repress our human urge to provide refuge to those in need? Should we perhaps be looking for a more holistic engagement with humanitarian assistance and delivery that brings together a duty-based responsibility with a ‘rights-based’ approach?

More information Original publication



Journal article


British Academy

Publication Date





177 - 199

Total pages



refuge, asylum, sanctuary, rights-based protection, duty-based asylum, karam, humanitarian assistance