Rejecting Refugees: Political Asylum in the 21st Century

Rejecting Refugees: Political Asylum in the 21st Century

Rejecting Refugees: Political Asylum in the 21st Century

Rejecting Refugees: Political Asylum in the 21st Century


Many nations recognize the moral and legal obligation to accept people fleeing from persecution, but political asylum applicants in the twenty-first century face restrictive policies and cumbersome procedures. So, what counts as persecution? How do applicants translate their stories of suffering and trauma into a narrative acceptable to the immigration officials? How can asylum officials weed out the fake from the genuine without resorting to inappropriate cultural definitions of behaviour?

Using both in depth accounts by asylum applicants and interviews with lawyers and others involved, this book takes the reader on a journey through the process of applying for asylum in both the United States and Great Britain. It describes how the systems address the conflicting needs of the state to protect their citizens from terrorists and the influx of hordes of unwelcome economic migrants, while at the same time adhering to their legal, moral and treaty obligations to provide safe haven for those fleeing persecution.

Rejecting Refugees is an insightful and fresh evaluation of the obstacles asylum applicants face and the cultural, procedural, and political discrepancies in the political asylum process. This makes it ideal reading to students and scholars of political science, international relations, sociology, law and anthropology.


In 1939, the St Louis sailed from Nazi Germany with 937 Jewish refugees on board and headed for Cuba where the passengers had landing permits. The passengers were nevertheless not allowed to disembark. The ship’s captain, the passengers, and an American Jewish refugee organization pleaded for asylum in the US, to no avail. The St Louis ultimately returned to Europe, where almost three-quarters of the refugees were later killed in death camps. In retrospect, the plight of the St Louis has come to represent a moment of national shame. Nevertheless, we continue to do similar things every day. Immigration officials deny entry to people fleeing persecution and deport many of those who make it to the West seeking a safe haven from persecution. Some of those people are tortured or killed on their return. Mostly this happens without public knowledge or public outcry.

The US proclaims itself to the world as the permanently unfinished nation. Immigration is a national rite of passage. We pride ourselves that taking in the world’s tired and poor, with its image of huddled masses, is not just our origin myth, but also our actual history. But in fact we have restricted access to immigrants, especially asylum seekers, arguably the most desperate of immigrants. Our narrow criteria for granting asylum have become even more limited since the end of the Cold War and September 11. Other liberal democracies also pay lip service to the obligations of providing shelter to those fleeing persecution, but have been, if anything, more restrictive in accepting those seeking political asylum.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.