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The language of ‘efficiency’ has increasingly been used as a rhetorical device to legitimate new approaches to refugee policy; in particular, extraterritorial processing and ‘protection-in-regions-of-origin’. This article aims to explore what ‘efficiency’ might mean from the perspective of the global refugee regime in order to, firstly, expose the hidden assumptions implicit in the use of the ‘efficiency’ discourse in the current debate and, secondly, to explore what the concept might offer in defining the normative contours of a future regime structure. Although the concept is acknowledged to be inevitably political and to carry epistemological assumptions, reconstructing the concept by drawing on economic theory is argued to offer a means to improve the quality of debate on the allocation of resources within the refugee regime. Indeed, a critical application of the concepts of productive, allocative and dynamic efficiency is shown to offer far more nuanced insights for sustainable refugee protection than is implied by the contemporary debate's political manipulation of the term. The article assesses both the theoretical and policy implications that derive from a more rigorous conceptualisation of the meaning of efficiency.

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Journal article



Publication Date



8 (2)


148 - 173