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This article theorizes development-led responses to large-scale, protracted refugee crises—a significant gap in our understanding given the remarkable speed with which international donors and humanitarian and development actors have engaged with this approach. The article is in two parts. The first sketches the emergence and characteristics of development-led responses to contemporary refugee crises, largely embodied in the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees and the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework. The second, and main, part theorizes the structural determinants and interests that are driving this international engagement, locating this in development theory popular in the 1970s to 1990s—the core-periphery/metropole-dependency model of economic dualism. I argue there are remarkable parallels with this model and how we might theorize the current refugee-response regime that subordinates impacted countries to economic-development and containment conditions applied by the advanced ‘imperial’ donor countries of the Global North. The limited capacity of the ‘empire’ to fight back concludes the article.

More information Original publication




Journal article


Oxford University Press

Publication Date



34 (2)


1766 - 1786

Total pages