Academic journal article Refuge

The International Relations of the "New" Extraterritorial Approaches to Refugee Protection: Explaining the Policy Initiatives of the UK Government and UNHCR

Academic journal article Refuge

The International Relations of the "New" Extraterritorial Approaches to Refugee Protection: Explaining the Policy Initiatives of the UK Government and UNHCR

Article excerpt


During 2003 there was an immense amount of debate about the possibility of states adopting extraterritorial approaches to asylum processing and refugee protection, and about such policies' compatibility with international refugee and human rights law. The debate has centred on two central policy initiatives: the so-called "UK Proposals" and UNHCR's "Convention Plus." It has so far focused primarily on the practical and legal consequences of these initiatives. What has been less clear is any explanation of the UK's (and other supportive states') motivation in aspiring to de-territorialize refugee protection and of UNHCR's strategy in the evolving consultations. After clarifying the conceptual and political relationship between the two sets of proposals, the article explores the motivation and international relations underlying them, from the perspectives of the UK Government and UNHCR.


Dans le courant de l'annee 2003, il y a eu beaucoup de debats sur la possibilite que certains etats adoptent des approches pour le traitement extraterritorial des demandes d'asile, ainsi que sur la question de savoir si de telles politiques seraient compatibles avec le droit international et les droits humains. Le debat tournait autour de deux initiatives principales : ce qu'on appelle les << UK Proposals >> ('La proposition britannique'), et Convention Plus de l'UNHCR. Il a porte jusqu' a present sur les consequences pratiques et legales de ces initiatives. Ce qui n'est toujours pas clair, c'est une explication quelconque des motivations de la Grande Bretagne (et des autres etats solidaires) en voulant deterritorialiser la protection du droit d'asile, ainsi que la strategie de l'UNHCR dans les consultations qui evoluent toujours. Apres avoir eclairci les liens conceptuels et politiques entre les deux series de propositions, l'article explore les motifs et les relations internationales qui les sous-tendent, du point de vue du gouvernement britannique et de l'UNHCR.


There has been a great deal of, often conceptually and terminologically confused, debate about the "new" (1) extraterritorial approaches to forced migration. Throughout 2003 the details of what came to be called the "UK Proposals" for "transit processing centres" (TPCs) and "regional processing zones" (RPZs) were gradually leaked via the press. They became a concern for NGOs in the context of Home Office policy formation and a subject of intergovernmental negotiation at the EU level. (2) Simultaneously, UNHCR began to reveal details of an initiative which it called "Convention Plus." This banner, initially proposed by Ruud Lubbers in September 2002, (3) was widely used during the fifty-third Session of ExCom in October 2002, before it acquired any substance or detail. At this stage it was simply associated with ideas of creating a series of special agreements on the secondary movement of refugees and asylum seekers and "greater emphasis on ensuring lasting solutions in regions of origin." (4) It was only in the second half of 2003, in UNHCR's public statements surrounding the EU's Thessaloniki Summit and the publication of the Agenda for Protection, (5) that the details of Convention Plus started to become more coherent.

Given the lack of clarity and the drip-fed nature of the details, it is not surprising that the two approaches were regarded as synonymous, especially by the UK media. The Economist, for example, defined Convention Plus as an "attempt to separate the concept of protecting asylum-seekers, to which the convention binds them [states], from that of admitting them to the country they want to go to," a definition widely regarded by UNHCR as more applicable to the UK Proposals. (6) When this was written in February, UNHCR had given very little substance to its Convention Plus; yet the British government sought to align the two concepts. For example, in the New International Approaches To Asylum Processing and Protection document distributed in March, the Home Office attempted to associate its ideas with UNHCR, arguing that "this new approach draws on the UNHCR's plans for modernisation of the international protection system (Convention Plus)" and that "it would build on work already underway in UNHCR (Convention Plus). …

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