Unconventional Refugees

Report Author: 
Elizabeth Keyes
Original Date of Publication: 
2017 Mar

Unconventional Refugees


Believing that the 1951 Refugee Convention fails to cover all types of forced migration in the modern world, and that new approaches to protection for "unconventional refugees" need to be developed beyond refugee status, the author - Director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law --  spells out the rationale for an easily administered "sojourner status" that would be country-specific -- similar in some respects to the Temporary Protected Status program. The status would last for a period of five years, and would be granted only when certain conditions have been met, e.g. applicants would have to have close relatives in the U.S. In addition, the U.S. would bear some responsibility for the instability in the home country, and would undertake meaningful efforts to address the root causes of the displacement. There would also be a clear understanding that the ultimate goal of the program is repatriation, not resettlement. One goal of the new policy would be to "fit the response to the actual migration flow."  The proposed approach would have special relevance to the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The author believes that "do(ing) something less-than-perfectly satisfactory" is better than doing nothing at all, as the pressure to migrate is difficult to contain, and illegal flows create worse problems in the long run.  One advantage of the proposed system is that it would avoid costly and time-consuming individual legal proceedings. "The solution replaces costly individualized adjudications with broader, simpler protection that is easier to access. It privileges investment in the security and governance of the sending countries as the only durable way to change migration patterns in the long-term."


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Keyes, E. (2017). Unconventional Refugees. Baltimore: University of Baltimore. Available at: 



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