Conference (25-26 January 2016)


Undesirable and Unreturnable? Policy challenges around excluded asylum-seekers and other migrants suspected of serious criminality
but who cannot be removed 

25-26 January 2016
Hosted by the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

**Conference Registration is open. Book your space here.**

This international conference initiates reflection on the emerging public policy challenge of excluded asylum-seekers and other migrants suspected of serious criminality but who cannot be removed from the territory of the host State.

The conference forms part of an AHRC-supported international research network project led by the Refugee Law Initiative, University of London, and the Center for International Criminal Justice, VU University Amsterdam. It aims to present and discuss state-of-the-art research and thinking by network participants, whilst incorporating new perspectives gathered via an open call for papers. Alongside high-profile academic experts, the event will be attended by policy-makers from over a dozen countries who participate in the network.

The Conference Agenda is available here.


The archetypal expression of this problem is presented by those asylum-seekers excluded from refugee status due to suspected involvement in serious crimes – as defined by Article 1F of the Refugee Convention – but who cannot be removed from the host State’s territory on other legal or practical grounds. The alleged Rwandan genocidaires seeking asylum in the UK are a case in point. Moreover, other migrants who have attracted adverse attention as a result of alleged criminal activities in the host State or overseas may end up in a similar situation, including former refugees such as Abu Qatada.

Impediments to the expulsion of migrants suspected or convicted of serious criminality can be ‘practical’, such as the lack of means to send the person to their country of origin, or ‘legal’ in nature, as where human rights standards prevent removal. The variety of measures adopted by different countries and their often ad hoc nature suggest that States do not know how to respond effectively to these issues.

Such ‘undesirable’ cases are actually quite rare. However, they attract enormous public interest, serving to embody concerns about migration control, the integrity of asylum, the role of human rights in contemporary society, and the bringing to justice of perpetrators of serious crimes. Simultaneously, these controversial cases raise formidable empirical and theoretical questions for refugee, criminal and human rights law and policy.

The conference provides a forum to address the following key questions:

• What are the scale and key characteristics of the problem of ‘undesirable and unreturnable’ migrants and policy responses adopted in a range of most-affected States?

• How should future policy development in relation to this problem take place? What would a coherent and uniform policy on this topic look like?

• Can law respond to address the ‘legal limbo’ in which such persons find themselves and resolve their situation one way or the other? Are other tools required?

• What are the implications of this situation for the wider legitimacy of refugee law and human rights law? How should these wider contexts inform the search for a solution?

• Do these cases represent the emergence of a ‘fundamental system error’ in international law or merely a practical problem in the application of the law?

• How should humanitarian issues of ‘international protection’ be balanced against international criminal law imperatives to counteract impunity?