Exclusion from refugee status: asylum seekers and terrorism in the UK

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Singer, Sarah
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Centre for Criminal Justice & Human Rights (CCJHR), School of Law, University College Cork
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Recent legal and political discourse on terrorism within the United Nations (UN) has presented refugee status as a means by which terrorists can seek entry to a country to perpetrate terrorist acts, or evade prosecution for their crimes. For example, UN Security Council Resolution 1373 of 2001 urges states to ‘ensure ... that refugee status is not abused by the perpetrators, organisers or facilitators of terrorist acts’. The drive to deny the benefits of refugee status to suspected terrorists has led to a radical reinterpretation of the exclusion clause of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, both at national and international levels, so as to bring terrorism within the ambit of this provision. An asylum-seeker will now be excluded from refugee status if he or she has committed or prepared for an act of ’terrorism’, or has encouraged or induced someone else to do so. However, ‘terrorism’ is not a legal label, but an undefined political term: there is at present no internationally agreed definition of ‘terrorism’, nor an internationally agreed list of ‘terrorist organisations’. The discretion inherent in the undefined nature of the term ‘terrorism’ therefore leaves the Refugee Convention’s exclusion clause open to abuse by Member States seeking to exclude genuine asylum seekers from refugee status. In this paper it will be argued that, in light of the serious consequences of exclusion from refugee status, there is a need for a principled approach to the application of the Refugee Convention’s exclusion clause which is not served by the undefined political term ‘terrorism’. Furthermore, since fleeing persecution for political opinion is an archetypal reason for seeking asylum, injecting subjective political notions of ‘terrorism’ into refugee exclusion has the potential toundermine the very foundations of the international refugee protection framework.
Exclusion , Refugee status , Purposes and principles of the United Nations , Terrorism
Singer, S. (2018) 'Exclusion from refugee status: asylum seekers and terrorism in the UK', CCJHR Legal Research Working Papers series, No. 1, Cork: CCJHR, University College Cork.
© Sarah Singer, 2012