While humanitarian intervention in cases of state instability remains a disputed concept in international law, there is consensus in the international community over the need to provide protection to refugees, one of the corollaries of such instability. Using the European Union (EU) as a case study, this article takes a policy perspective to examine competing conceptions of both 'responsibility' and 'protection' among EU Member States. Responsibility can be seen either as the duty to move refugees around the EU such that each Member State takes its fair share, or the duty to assist those Member States who receive the highest numbers of migrants due to geography by way of practical and financial help. Similarly, protection can imply that which the EU offers within its boundaries, encompassed within the Common European Asylum System, or something broader that looks at where people are coming from and seeks to work with countries of origin and transit to provide protection outside the Union and tackle the causes of forced migration. Whether one or both of these concepts comes to dominate policy discourse over the long-term, the challenge will be to ensure an uncompromised understanding of protection among policy-makers.