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The concept of 'imminence' in the international protection of refugees

Funding: 2019: $30,000
2019: $30,000

Project Member(s): Lambert, H.

Funding or Partner Organisation: Australian Research Council (ARC Discovery Projects)
Australian Research Council (ARC Discovery Projects)

Start year: 2016

Summary: If a person crosses a border to escape a risk of persecution, armed conflict, severe flooding or drought, how ‘imminent’ must the feared harm be before another State is obligated to offer them protection? Should international law protect only people who face the risk of immediate danger, or should it also protect those at risk of harm that may manifest more slowly over time—for instance, the slow-onset impacts of climate change? This is an increasingly crucial but radically under-explored legal issue. The unpredictable nature of conflict, environmental degradation and global economic instability means that people are already fleeing from harm that might well eventuate in the future, but that is not yet imminent. This has sparked new and complex challenges in assessing States’ international protection obligations. Decision-makers (namely, tribunal members and judges) and policymakers are increasingly finding that traditional approaches to migration and protection are ill-suited to the contemporary drivers of forced migration, yet there is no coherent framework in the jurisprudence or scholarship to guide the development of the law. This is not an abstract issue: rather, it has immediate and concrete consequences for people whose protection claims are rejected because of a lack of legal clarity about the relevance, nature and scope of the concept of imminence. This Project responds to these challenges by examining how international law conceives of ‘imminence’ when people flee from the anticipated future impacts of phenomena such as climate change, natural disasters, armed conflict, and the deprivation of basic socio-economic rights.

FOR Codes: International Law (excl. International Trade Law), Human Rights Law, Justice and the Law not elsewhere classified, Law Reform