The concept of ‘imminence’ in the international protection of refugees and other forced migrants

Description

We are living in an unprecedented era of displacement.  Over 65 million people have been forced from their homes by persecution or conflict, and some 26 million more by the impacts of disasters and climate change. Most are displaced within their own countries, but many also cross international borders in search of safety and protection.

While people often flee from imminent risks, such as violence or flooding, other drivers of forced migration – such as gradual environmental degradation and economic instability – may mean that people move in anticipation of future harm.  This has sparked new and complex challenges in assessing States’ international protection obligations. Legal decision-makers and policymakers are increasingly finding that traditional approaches to international protection are ill-suited to slower-onset forms of harm.  

If people cross a border to escape future harm, how ‘imminent’ does that harm need to be before another country has an obligation to protect them? Should international law protect only people who face the risk of immediate danger, or should it also protect those at risk of harm that may manifest more slowly over time? This is a crucial yet radically under-explored legal issue.

Through a detailed examination of international and national jurisprudence, this three-year project examines the concept of ‘imminence’ in international protection to determine whether a systematic, principled approach is possible. In addition to its scholarly innovation, the project will have practical benefits for the refugee decision-making process, and ultimately for displaced people themselves.

The project is supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant held by Professor Jane McAdam (UNSW), Professor Michelle Foster (Melbourne) and Professor Hélène Lambert (Westminster).  The project’s Research Associate is Adrienne Anderson.

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