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Thematic Issue: Rights Protection amidst COVID-19 / General

Refugee Protection in the COVID-19 Crisis and Beyond: The Capacity and Limits of International Law


Michelle Foster, Hélène Lambert and Jane McAdam

The current pandemic and concomitant framework of crisis has led to unprecedented restrictions on global movement, and hence on the ability of refugees to seek protection. These measures have been implemented as a matter of urgency on account of the immediacy of the public health challenge, yet risk violating international refugee and human rights law. This experience provides an opportunity to reflect on an equally compelling, although less imminent, threat, namely displacement linked to the impacts of climate change. This article considers these twin challenges and reflects on the capacity and limits of international law to address both crises, while balancing the competing rights and interests at stake. It argues that a key challenge for international law and policy is how to harness the sense of urgency generated by COVID-19 for the long-term ‘climate crisis’, without resorting to emergency mechanisms of reactive, short-term, restrictive, and exceptional measures.

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(2021) 44(1) UNSWLJ 104: