Keeping Up Appearances

State Sovereignty and the Protection of Refugees in Southeast Asia

In: European Journal of East Asian Studies
Sebastien Moretti Global Migration Centre, The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies Switzerland Geneva

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The fact that most Southeast Asian States are not party to the main instruments pertaining to the protection of refugees has given rise to the ‘rejection of international refugee law’ theory, which has largely dominated the literature on the issues pertaining to refugees in Southeast Asia. Based on an analysis of the practices of Southeast Asian States with regard to refugees, this article argues that although they are not party to the 1951 Convention, the main countries of asylum in the region, i.e. Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, de facto treat differently the people they acknowledge to be in need of some sort of protection: that is, refugees. Unlike other irregular migrants, refugees are protected against non-refoulement and, to a certain extent, are also protected from detention for irregular entry into the territory of another State. In doing so, Southeast Asian States maintain a ‘fiction’ according to which they preserve sovereignty over the borders of their countries while in reality largely accepting the limitations posed by international refugee law.

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