Course Syllabus

Fleeing Across Borders: International Refugee Law  DRAFT

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Semester & Location:

Fall 2023 - DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Core Course - 3 credits

Study Tours:

Sweden and Greece

Major Disciplines:

Human Rights, International Relations, Legal Studies

Prerequisite(s): None

Campbell Munro

Program Contact:

Embla Thorsdottir

Time & Place:



Course Description

As you read this, ever increasing numbers of men, women, and children are fleeing Syria, Eritrea, Ukraine, Myanmar, South Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and countless other places because of persecution and war, but also on account of poverty and climate breakdown. Although the majority of those displaced from their homes in the Global South find some form of refuge in neighboring countries, many undertake long and perilous journeys to seek security and protection in the Global North. Although Global North states have all undertaken to provide asylum and related human rights protections under international law, these obligations are normally only triggered when people seeking asylum reach the territory of states like Denmark. As International law provides no ‘right to enter’ for those seeking asylum, there is a ‘Catch 22’ at the heart of the international refugee protection framework: not only do Global North states have no legal obligation to provide safe transit for those seeking asylum, they are legally entitled to extend and externalize their border control regimes, often into maritime geographies,  in order to deter and prevent as many non-citizens as possible from entering their territory. This course will interrogate this legal ‘protection gap’ and the state policies of ‘non-entrée’ that it enables as they not only call into question the post-war concept of the refugee and the continuing relevance, efficacy and universality of ‘the right to be recognized as a refugee’ but they increasingly imperil the lives of those seeking security and refuge in the Global North.  

The Course is divided into three modules:

Module A  (Classes 1-7)

‘The Global Displacement Crisis and The Evolving Concept of the Refugee in International Law.’

In this opening module students will be introduced to the refugee as a concept that is rooted in law, but influenced by politics, media, and culture more broadly. In order to understand the fluid relation between law and politics that animates the international refugee protection framework, we will consider how the concept of the refugee has evolved in response to shifting political interests and migrant flows. We will ask key critical questions about human mobility and displacement in the 21st century; who or what is a refugee, are all those displaced by war or climate breakdown entitled to the same rights, is the refugee still a subject entitled to ‘our’ solidarity? In parallel we will trace the evolution of the ’global border regime,’ in order to better understand how the rights and protections guaranteed to refugees under international law are increasingly undermined by the externalization of borders.

Module B  (Classes 8-13)

‘The Response of States: The Politics of Non-Entrée and the Externalization of Borders,’

In this module the policies and practices of states in response to the global displacement crisis, and specifically irregular arrival by sea, will be juxtaposed with the foundational legal principle of non-refoulement. The module will introduce students to the politics of non-entrée and the externalization of borders through a focus on European and Greek refugee policy in the Aegean since 2015. Students will be invited to engage with the specific issue of the extraterritorial application of the principle of non-refoulement, as the waters of the high seas and the shifting territorial and legal periphery of Greece and other frontline refugee receiving states are a key site at which the future of the international refugee protection framework is being shaped.

Module C  (Classes 14-18)

Mapping The Refugee Journey – Group Projects

Through a shared focus on some of the major global refugee flows, students will be provided with an opportunity to engage in detail with a specific refugee journey, and to better understand the shifting legal and political geographies through which refugees move and which materially shape the refugee journey. Students will recreate each of the stages of the  refugee journey, from the complex set of circumstances driving forced displacement, through the uncertainty and danger of irregular migration, to the hurdles, hostility and hope that swirl around arrival and entry. For those seeking entry to the Global North, the final stage of their journey is often the most daunting and dangerous, and through mapping individual journey’s students will better grasp the full extent of the emerging ‘global border regime.’

Learning Objectives

By the end of the course students will be able to:

Reflect on the concept of the refugee, how it has shifted over time, and how it is framed by the media, politicians and broader society;

Reflect on the legal and political circumstances under which people are granted or refused asylum;

Explain, analyze and discuss contemporary European refugee policy concerning the irregular arrival of refugees by sea within the context of the international legal framework for the protection of refugees;

Explain, analyze and discuss the fundamental principle of non-refoulement and the effectiveness of its application to those compelled to make irregular journeys by sea;

Map the longer refugee journey’s that culminate in irregular arrival by sea and interrogate the broader social, political, economic, and climate factors that precipitate and structure those journeys;

Reflect on the strategies of states in response to the global displacement crisis, and the tensions between policies of non-entrée and the right to non-refoulement.

Reflect on the evolving concept of ‘the border’ and the emergence of various ‘bordering practices’ that together constitute the emerging ‘global border regime’;

Explain, analyse and discuss the 1951 Refugee Convention, the mandate of the UNHCR, the relevance of international human rights law and the role of NGO's and the European Court of Human Rights.


Campbell Munro

Campbell holds an LLM in International Human Rights Law from Lund University, and previously practiced as a barrister in London, specializing in refugee and immigration law. He is currently completing a PhD in International Law at the University of Copenhagen.


A list of ‘required class readings’ and ‘further readings’ for each class are provided on Canvas. Students will be expected to complete ‘short written assignments’ on the required readings for most classes. (See ‘assignments’ below) The further readings are provided to enable students to explore their interest and curiosity in a particular topic and to provide relevant research material for the Course Paper and Group Project.

Below is a list of some they relevant texts in the field of International Refugee Law. Students will be directed to specific sections of some of these texts in the required class readings. This reading list is also intended to supplement the further readings.

UNHCR: ‘Handbook and Guidelines on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status Under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees’ - Reissued, Geneva December 2011

‘The Human Rights of Migrants in General International Law - From Minimum Standards to Fundamental Rights,’ Vincent Chetail, (2013) 28(1) Georgetown Immigration Law Journal, 225-255.

‘Accessing Asylum in Europe: Extraterritorial Border Controls and Refugee Rights under EU Law,’ Violeta Moreno-Lax (Oxford University Press, 2017)

‘Frontex and Non-Refoulement: The International Responsibility of the EU,’ Roberta Mungianu, (Cambridge University Press, 2016)

'Between Life, Security and Rights: Framing the Interdiction of “Boat Migrants” in the Central Mediterranean and Australia’, ’ Violeta Moreno-Lax, D. Ghezelbash and N. Klein, (2019) 32(4) Leiden Journal of International Law

Access to Asylum: International Refugee Law and the Globalisation of Migration Control,’ Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen, Cambridge University Press, 2013

‘Non-Refoulement in a World of Cooperative Deterrence,’ Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen and James C. Hathaway, 53(2) Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, (2015) 235-84.

‘International Refugee Law and Refugee Policy: The Case of Deterrence Policies,’ Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen, 27(4) Journal of Refugee Studies (2014) 574-95.

‘Manufacturing Displacement: Externalization and Postcoloniality in European Migration Control,’ Martin Lemberg-Pedersen, (2019) 5(3) Global Affairs

‘Border-Induced Displacement: The Ethical And Legal Implications Of Distance-Creation Through Externalization,’ Violeta Moreno-Lax and Martin Lemberg-Pedersen, QIL, Zoom-in 56 (2019) 5-33

‘Fortress Greece,’ Rosa Vasilaki, (Sidecar, New Left Review, 13 July 2022)

‘Constructing Crisis At Europe's Borders: The EU Plan To Intensify Its Dangerous Hotspot Approach On Greek Islands,’ (Médecins Sans Frontières, June 2021)

‘The Fallacy of Control: Tightened Asylum and Reception Policies Undermine Protection in Greece,’ Daphne Panayotatos, (Refugees International, February 2022)

‘Their Faces Were Covered: Greece’s Use of Migrants as Police Auxiliaries in Pushbacks,’  (Human Rights Watch, 2022)

‘Bordering Through Destitution: The Case Of Social Assistance To Irregularised Migrants In Malmö, Sweden,’ Vanna Nordling & Maria Persdotter, (2021) 11(2) Nordic Social Work Research, 155-168

'Migration Emergencies', Jaya Ramji-Nogales, 68, Hastings Law Journal, (2017), 609-656.

'Migration as Decolonization', E. Tendayi Achiume, 71, Stanford Law Review, (2019), 1509-1574. 

'The Right to the World', Joseph Nevins, 49(5), Antipode, (2017), 1349–1367. 

'The Geopolitics of Refugee Studies: A View From the Global South', B. S. Chimni, Journal of Refugee Studies 11(4) (1998), 350-374.

‘Emergency and Migration, Race and the Nation,’ John Reynolds, 67 UCLA L. Rev. 1768 (2021).

‘Statelessness: A Modern History,’ Mira L. Siegelberg, (Harvard University Press, 2020)

‘Migration Studies and Colonialism,’ Lucy Mayblin & Joe Turner (Polity Press, 2021)

‘Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism,’ Harsha Walia (Haymarket Books, 2021)

‘Bordering Britain: Law, Race and Empire,’ Nadine El-Enany (Manchester University Press, 2020)

‘We’re Here Because You Were There: Immigration and the End of Empire,’ Ian Sanjay Patel, (Verso, 2021)

‘Cascading toward “De-Solidarity”? The Unfolding of Global Refugee Protection,’ Obiora Chinedu Okafor, (TWAILR: Reflections, 2/2019)

‘The Death of Asylum: Hidden Geographies of the Enforcement Archipelago,’ Alison Mountz, (University of Minnesota Press, 2020)

‘Refuge Beyond Reach: How Rich Democracies Repel Asylum Seekers,’ David Scott FitzGerald, (Oxford University Press, 2019)

‘Refuge Lost: Asylum Law in an Interdependent World,’ Daniel Ghezelbash, Cambridge University Press, 2018)

‘Against Borders: The Case for Abolition,’ Gracie Mae Bradley and Luke de Noronha, (Verso, 2022)

'Humanitarian Borders: Unequal Mobility and Saving Lives,’ Polly Pallister-Wilkins, (Verso, 2022)

‘Nomad Century: How Climate Migration Will Reshape Our World,’ Gaia Vince, (Flatiron Books, 2022)

‘Planetary Specters: Race, Migration, and Climate Change in the Twenty-First Century,’ Neel Ahuja, (The University of North Carolina Press, 2021)

‘The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move,’ Sonia Shah, (Bloomsbury, 2020)

‘Bordering,’ Nira Yuval-Davis, Georgie Wemyss, Kathryn Cassidy (eds), (Polity Press, 2019)

'Home Rule: National Sovereignty and the Separation of Natives and Migrants,' Nandita Sharma, (Duke University Press Books, 2020)

‘On Borders: Territories, Legitimacy, and the Rights of Place,’ Paulina Ochoa Espejo, (Oxford University Press, 2020)

‘Border as Method, or, the Multiplication of Labor,’ Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson, (Duke University Press Books, 2013)

‘Refugee Talk: Propositions on Ethics and Aesthetics,’ Eva Rask Knudsen and Ulla Rahbek, (Pluto Press, 2022)

‘My Fourth Time, We Drowned: Seeking Refuge on the World's Deadliest Migration Route,’ Sally Hayden, (Melville House, 2022)

‘The Naked Don't Fear the Water: An Underground Journey with Afghan Refugees,’ Matthieu Aikins, (Harper, 2022)

The Dispossessed: A Story of Asylum and the US-Mexican Border and Beyond,’ John Washington, (Verso, 2020)

‘The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You,’ Dina Nayeri, (Catapult, 2019)

‘Lights in the Distance: Exile and Refuge at the Borders of Europe,’ Daniel Trilling, (Verso, 2018)

Field Studies - TBC 

Students are required to participate in two Field Studies during the course.

Guest Lecturers - TBC

Approach to Teaching

The approach to teaching adopted in this course will be based on a seminar model, in which classroom discussion and engaged participation will be the main method of teaching and learning. Students should consider the course as presenting a series of ‘shared problems’ that we as a group will seek to reflect on together. Our shared project is to gain a better understanding of the international refugee protection regime, and to be able to critically analyse the workings of that regime from a legal perspective.

Expectations of the Students

Students are expected to abide by the Academic Regulations and assist in creating an environment that is conducive to learning and that protects the rights of all members of the DIS community. This course is designed to expose students to a variety of different arguments concerning a very topical and controversial topic, and is designed to provide students with tools with which to analyse those arguments and assess them critically from a legal perspective. The course is not designed to impart a particular viewpoint to you, but rather to allow you to form your own perspective via an informed process of collective discussion and reflection. Please show respect for the views of your fellow-classmates, whether you agree with them or not. Whereas this course is designed to encourage debate, judgmental or intolerant behaviour will not be tolerated.


Students will be evaluated on their engaged classroom participation and their assignments. Attendance for all classes and Field Studies is mandatory. Students are required to attend class on time and be prepared to actively participate in class. The starting point for such engaged participation will be the submission of ‘short written assignments’ at the start of class, which will inform class discussion. These assignments form a bridge between the reading students undertake prior to class and their engaged participation in class.


A: Short Written Assignments

These assignments are intended to enhance your understanding of the topics addressed in each class, enable you to better identify and analyse key concepts from the reading, and provide an opportunity to practice drafting arguments that can be used in the Course Paper. The principal aim of these assignments, however, is to foster class discussion and collaboration, and all assignments must therefore be submitted onto the shared Discussion Board.

The Short Written Assignments (SWA) will serve as a key venue for each of you to set out your understanding of the material covered during the Course. You should draft the SWA after having completed the reading assigned for each Class and having considered the other materials provided. Each of you is expected to submit a concise but fully formed response to each of the questions set out in the SWA. As a guideline each SWA should be between 300 and 500 words long.

In order to fulfil each SWA, you are also required to comment on at least one other submission. Comments should be drafted in such a way as to invite responses from other students, in order to foster class discussion. You will only be able to read and comment on other submissions once you have submitted your own assignment. Having met the minimum requirement of submitting a SWA and commenting on one other, the SWA will be graded as complete.

In order to allow time for you to comment on your peer’s submissions and for a discussion to take place, each SWA must be uploaded to the Discussion Board by 20:00 on the day before the relevant Class.

B: Course Paper – ’The Global Displacement Crisis: How We Got Here And Where We Go From Here.’

Rather than a traditional research paper, the course paper provides students with an opportunity to advocate for a response, solution or even a new paradigm to address the global displacement crisis. While being informed by an analysis of the legal and political history of the international refugee protection framework, the paper should aspire to transcend the ‘global border regime’ and construct a new model that foregrounds the human rights of 'people on the move' while meeting the copious challenges of human mobility in the 21stcentury.

C: Study Tour Research and Reflection Journal.

The Study Tours consist of a wide range of academic visits; we will hear from scholars, activists, practitioners, politicians, journalists, and refugees themselves. In preparation for the Group Project on Mapping the Refugee Journey and in order to maximize the learning outcomes and enable students to productively reflect on what is a busy itinerary of academic visits, each of you will be required to submit a ‘Study Tour Research and Reflective Journal.’

In a similar vein to a travel diary, the purpose of the Research and Reflective Journal is twofold. Firstly, it functions as a venue for you to record your impressions, structure your recollections, and highlight those elements of the Study Tour that best informed and enriched your understanding of the themes addressed in the Course. Secondly it provides a space to gather and focus research material that may be relevant for your specific group project.

Each student will be expected to comment on each of the academic visits in turn, although the time and space you allocate to each in the Journal is up to you. Students will not be expected to answer specific questions; like a diary, the format and style of the journal is a matter for you. The Journal is intended as a place to evidence your individual engagement and evolving understanding of the themes of the course. In order to be eligible for the higher grades students will therefore be expected to go beyond a mere descriptive summary of each academic visit and critically reflect on the links between the various academic visits and the themes of the Course.

The Reflective Journal is also designed as an active learning tool to enhance student’s engagement in the Study Tour itself. For example, you might choose to ask questions of a speaker that are related to a theme that you are particularly interested in or that relates to your specific group project.

D: Group Project: ‘From The Frying Pan Into The Fire’: Mapping The Refugee Journey

Through a shared focus on some of the major global refugee flows, students will be provided with an opportunity to engage in detail with a specific refugee journey, and to better understand the shifting legal and political geographies through which refugees move and which materially shape the refugee journey. Students will recreate each of the stages of the  refugee journey, from the complex set of circumstances driving forced displacement, through the uncertainty and danger of irregular migration, to the hurdles, hostility and hope that swirl around arrival and entry. For those seeking entry to the Global North, the final stage of their journey is often the most daunting and dangerous, and through mapping individual journey’s students will better grasp the full extent of the emerging ‘global border regime.’


To be eligible for a passing grade for this course every student must complete all of the assigned work. The grading breakdown for the class is as follows:



Engaged Classroom and Study Tour Participation


Short Written Assignments


Course Paper – ’The Global Displacement Crisis: How We Got Here And Where We Go From Here’


Study Tour Research and Reflection Journal


Group Project: ‘From the Frying Pan into the Fire’: Mapping the Refugee Journey


Classroom Policies


Plagiarism and cheating of any kind will not be tolerated. Any assignment which shows evidence of either will receive an immediate fail. It is essential that you attribute all the ideas that you have borrowed. All students should familiarize themselves with the DIS Academic Honor Code.


Minor and infrequent lateness is occasionally unavoidable, but please enter the classroom quietly and with as little disruption as possible. Repeated or disruptive lateness will affect your participation grade.

Mobile phones and laptop computers:

Any and every use of mobile phones and laptops during class is strictly prohibited. If you use an electronic device during class your participation grade will suffer. The reason for this rule is simple, research has consistently shown that students who use laptops during class to take notes contribute less to class discussion and leave class having learnt less!

Academic Regulations 

Please make sure to read the Academic Regulations on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on:


Course Summary:

Date Details Due