Non-signatory States and the international refugee regime

The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol form the foundations of the international refugee system and provide the legal foundation of refugee assistance and the basic statute guiding the work of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The great majority of the world’s nations have signed or ratified the Convention and its Protocol yet many of the world’s top refugee-hosting countries have not done so. The reasons for not being party to the Convention or its Protocol are varied but the fact of not being a party affects, for example, the ability of UNHCR to work with and within that State and, importantly, the legal requirement upon that State to comply with international humanitarian standards. However, the actual actions of States in relation to key aspects of protection of refugees are not directly correlated with whether they have signed or ratified either Convention or Protocol.

This will be explored in a mini-feature theme on Non-signatory States and the international refugee regime to be published in June 2021, which is being produced in collaboration with University of Oslo’s ERC-funded BEYOND project led by Professor Maja Janmyr.[1] (This will be followed by a second mini-feature specifically focused on non-signatory States in the Arab region in February 2023.)

Refugee protection is increasingly politicised and has wide-ranging implications for State sovereignty. By analysing the actions and positions of States that have chosen not to sign the Convention, authors will seek to explore the role that these States play in the protection of refugees.

A full call for articles, with deadline for submissions, will be issued in due course; please do not submit proposals until the full call has been published. If you wish to be notified when the call is published, please sign up at

We expect submissions to reflect a diverse range of experience and opinions and address questions such as the following:

  • What are the reasons for States refusing to sign or ratify and what are the repercussions and implications for States, the international community and displaced people?
  • What alternative mechanisms for protection (including signature to other conventions and instruments) are in place in non-signatory States and how do they resemble and differ from the protection provided by signatory States?
  • What can be learned from both the failures of signatory States to ensure protection, and the successes of non-signatories in so doing?
  • What influence does the Refugee Convention have on non-signatory States?
  • How do non-signatory States engage with and help shape developments within the international refugee law regime and its institutions?
  • What lessons can be drawn about the complex effects of international conventions through an examination of the role of non-signatories vis-à-vis the Refugee Convention?
  •  What challenges are faced by UNHCR, other international institutions and States in promoting ratification of the Convention and how can these be addressed?
  • In what ways, and on what basis, does UNHCR operate in non-signatory States? How does it implement its mandate of international protection? How do non-signatory States influence the understanding and implementation of this mandate?
  • How do local courts and legal aid providers in non-signatory States engage with international refugee law norms and principles? Under what circumstances and for what reasons is the Refugee Convention used?
  • What advantages and disadvantages are there for civil society operating in non-signatory States? 



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Forced Migration Review
Refugee Studies Centre
Oxford Department of International Development
University of Oxford
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