Course Syllabus

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Fleeing Across Borders:

An Introduction to International Refugee Law


Semester & Location:

Spring 2024 - DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Core Course - 3 credits

Major Disciplines:

Human Rights, International Relations, Legal Studies

Faculty Members:

Campbell Munro- current students use Canvas inbox

Contact information

Time & Place:

Monday and Thursday: 10:05 - 11:25

Classroom: Fi44-Kosmo 4C Left

Description of Course

As you read this, men, women, and children are fleeing Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and many other places in the Global South because of war and conflict, but also poverty and climate breakdown. Denmark and other European states have undertaken a legal duty to accept and protect refugees who flee their homes pursuant to the 1951 Refugee Convention and other International Human Rights Conventions.

Notwithstanding these binding legal obligations, Denmark and other EU states have constructed a ‘border regime’ to manage the irregular migration of people from the Global South that is legitimated through a discourse of ‘crisis’ and premised on policies and practices of deterrence and the externalization of borders, with the explicit aim of preventing as many ‘people on the move’ as possible from reaching the territory of the EU.

This course will analyze and examine this ‘border regime’ and problematize the discourse of ‘crisis’ by situating the global management of mobility within a longer history of imperial and racial hierarchies, in order to interrogate the extent to which Denmark and other EU states fulfil their international legal obligations to protect refugees.

The course will be divided into two Modules:

MODULE 1: The Construction of the Global Border Regime and the Management of Mobility in the Post-Colonial Present.

In this opening module students will be introduced to the figure of the refugee as a subject constructed by the global border regime, and international refugee law as a framework to manage the mobility of the postcolonial subject. In order to understand the fluid relation between law and politics that animates the international refugee protection framework, we will consider how the imperial origins of the global border regime continue to structure mobility in the present and shape the figure of the refugee. We will ask key critical questions about human mobility and displacement in the 21st century; how is the universal right to freedom of movement materialized in the ‘threatening’ mobility of ‘people on the move’; how should we respond to forced displacement in a time of climate breakdown; what is the ‘border’ and how does it (re)construct imperial and racial hierarchies of mobility; how have international migration law and empire evolved together; how should we conceptualize the right to asylum in the post-colonial present;  what role does race play in the global management of mobility; how can we think beyond the global border regime to reimagine freedom of movement as decolonization.

MODULE 2: The Politics of Non-Entrée and the Externalization of EUropean Borders.

Structured around a Study Tour to the key bordering site of Lesvos in Greece, this module applies the decolonial theoretical framework for understanding forced displacement and the global border regime to the case study of bordering practices in the Aegean Sea, where the waters of the high seas and the shifting territorial and legal periphery of Greece forms a key site at which the future of the international refugee protection framework is being shaped. The politics of non-entrée and the externalization of borders by Greece and the EU in response to irregular arrival by sea, will be juxtaposed with the foundational legal principle of non-refoulement. Having interrogated the notion of a 'crisis of migration', students will be invited to engage with specific elements of the contemporary EU border regime; the issue of refugee detention and the politics of the camp as a technology for managing mobility; the normalization of push-backs as a extra-legal strategy of border control; and the discourse of anti-smuggling and the criminalization of solidarity, in order to better understand how the rights and protections guaranteed to refugees under international law are increasingly undermined by the externalization of borders.

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 in contemporary Europe;
  • Explain, analyze and discuss the histories of human mobility and the patterns of contemporary forced displacement in the present within the context of imperial and racial hierarchies and power relations;
  • 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 practices of border ‘externalization’ that together constitute the emerging ‘global border regime’;
  • Reflect on the 1951 Refugee Convention, the mandate of the UNHCR, the relevance of international human rights law, 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 in a particular topic and to provide relevant research material for the Course Paper and Group Project.

Below is a list of the full course readings. 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.

‘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.

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

‘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

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

'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).

‘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)

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

‘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)


Field Studies

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

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 analyze ‘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 SWA. As a guideline each SWA should be between 300 and 500 words long.

Each SWA identifies a ‘key concept’ that is explored in the readings for the class. Each of you should set out your understanding of the key concept, reflect on how each concept expands our understanding of the core themes of the course and relate that analysis to ongoing discussions in class.

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: ‘Decolonizing Refugee Law: Migration, Refugees and Empire’

Rather than a traditional research paper, this assignment provides students with an opportunity to advocate for a response, solution or even a new paradigm to address the global displacement crisis. Taking the form of a policy brief or memo to the President of the EU Commission or other relevant European leader, the paper should argue that EU Refugee Policy should reflect and incorporate the histories of European empires and the insights of decolonial theory in order to better reform, address, or take account of one of the various topics addressed in Module 1: the universal right to free movement; the role of climate breakdown in forced displacement; the externalized EU border regime; the co-evolution of international migration law and empire; the limited right to asylum after empire; the racial underpinnings of international refugee law; and the emancipatory potential of reimagining migration as decolonization.

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 advocate for a new approach that foregrounds the human rights of 'people on the move' while meeting the copious challenges of human mobility in the 21st century.

While the paper itself takes the form of a policy brief or memo and should be concisely drafted, the paper should nonetheless evidence substantial independent research, reflected in a full bibliography.

Every student must submit a Course Paper of between 2000 and 2500 words. Completed papers must be uploaded as a Word Doc. on Canvas.

C: Study Tour Reflection – 10 Minute TED Talk – Lesvos as a Borderscape

The term borderscape suggests that we should look beyond the territorial border itself to the host of legal, political, social, cultural, economic, and environmental practices, discourses, and artifacts, that reify, subvert, enforce, transcend, and give meaning to the border.

What is a ‘border’? What does it look like? How does it function and feel? How do different actors experience, endure, embody, disregard, enforce, challenge and resist the border? How do these different actors materialize and interact with the bordescape? What technologies of power and resistance, law and solidarity, humanitarianism and security do these different actors deploy to construct the borderscape?

How is the landscape marked by the borderscape, and how does it construct the natural and urban topography of this small Aegean island? What is the relationship between ‘the camp,’ ‘the city,’ ‘the island,’ ‘the mountain’ ‘the border,’ and ‘the sea’ and how do these predominant features of the landscape of Lesvos contribute to constructing the borderscape?  What ‘textual traces,’ ‘iconography,’ ‘border graffiti,’ and ‘testimonies of passage’ have been left by those who have transited through the island both historically and in the present?

How does it feel to visit a key site in Europe’s externalized border regime? How did you respond to the ‘affective geographies’ of the island? What artifacts, be they material, visual, sonic, and even emotional that embody, reify and symbolize the borderscape, did you encounter, and collect?

This assignment provides students with an opportunity to gather together and curate your reflections on the Study Tour to Lesvos in the form of a 10-minute TED talk.



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 participation


Short written assignments


Study Tour Reflection – 10 Minute TED Talk – Lesvos as a Borderscape


Course Paper: ‘Decolonizing Refugee Law: Migration, Refugees and Empire’


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