Public seminar: Refugee rights need a rethink


James Hathaway delivers a seminar on refugee rights. Photo: Bennet Nichol



Leading international law authority on refugee rights pushed for a rethink of the UN Refugee Convention at a seminar in the Brisbane Supreme Court last night.

James Hathaway, director of refugee and asylum law at the University of Michigan presented a model to operationalise the existing UN Refugee Convention, in light of the on-going refugee crisis in Europe.

Hathaway said the burden of refugee intake rests upon third-word and developing countries, and the world’s richest states are doing little to contribute.

“[The European crisis] is a tiny tip of the refugee protection iceberg, even with the numbers that Europe has seen, fewer than 10 per cent of Syrian refugees are going to that continent” Hathaway said.

“The crisis as they see it is extraordinarily small relative to the crisis that actually exists in the region of origin.”

In order to solve the refugee situation in Syria and elsewhere, Hathaway argued for a ‘reformulation model’ which will enable states to plan and manage refugee flows before a crisis occurs.

“The reformation model to implementing refugee rights is based on the idea that, while the norms of the convention are sound, you need a mechanism to implement them,” Hathaway said.

“The idea is, that we distribute [refugees] based on capacity, which involves political, economic and other measures of capacity, not just GDP.”

Audience member, Kellie Robson said she thought the seminar outlined a need for Australians to do more for refugees.

“I thought [the seminar] was really inspiring, I think a lot of Australians – particularly the people who chose to come tonight, share that feeling of being ashamed,” Ms Robson said.

“Australians are good people, we are fair people, and the truth is we lead such a privileged existence that we do not understand what it’s like to have nowhere safe to go.”

Hathaway’s publication The Rights of Refugees under International Law, is the first comprehensive analysis of the UN Refugee Convention, and is cited by senior courts internationally.


  1. […] Published September 24, 2015 for The Source News. […]


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