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Refugees or Illegal Immigrants: The Problem of the Group in Refugee Protection

Innes, A. J. ORCID: 0000-0002-0100-8990 (2021). Refugees or Illegal Immigrants: The Problem of the Group in Refugee Protection. Global Studies Quarterly, 1(3), doi: 10.1093/isagsq/ksab023


This research excavates the case of Jewish refugees in Cyprus between 1946 and 1948. I argue that this case is formative of the development not just of the refugee, but—perhaps more interestingly—of the concept of “illegal immigration,” which relies on the constructed impossibility of group-based refugee protection. I contend that there is a paradox residing at the heart of the 1951 Refugee Convention definition of a refugee that produces the refugee as a singular victim while supporting the very conditions that create that victimhood—that is, persecution targeted at an identity group where the persecution is motivated by the shared identity (defined in the Refugee Convention by race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion). As the architecture of international human rights was built, the refugee definition was drafted in a way that embedded group-based exclusion in the design of the definition. I exemplify this through the case of Jewish refugees attempting to reach British Mandate Palestine in the 1940s, who were intercepted and detained in Cyprus. The case is worthy of attention because it exposes the absence of group protection in the refugee definition and the effect of that absence: a group is constituted as a threat and cannot be defined collectively as refugees. Instead, they become “illegal immigrants.” This case study of Jewish detention in Cyprus provides a key empirical example of oppression residing inside a historically liberal movement and in the resulting conditions of refugee protection.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © The Author(s) (2021). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Studies Association. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Subjects: J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
J Political Science > JX International law
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

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