SOAS University of London

Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies

“Freedom From Seizure”: Law and Asylum in Conflict

Dr Simon Behrman (University of East Anglia)

Date: 26 November 2014Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 26 November 2014Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: G51

Type of Event: Seminar

It is often claimed that refugee law is derived from and expresses the ancient tradition of asylum in a modern context. Moreover the extreme difficulties faced by refugees today are a result of the betrayal of this tradition and the legal guarantees that supposedly uphold it. This paper challenges that narrative by exploring the origins and development of both asylum and refugee law. The following propositions will be argued. First, asylum and law have never sat easily together. Indeed the history of asylum can be read as one in which it has been in constant conflict with law and sovereign power. Second, international refugee law, far from being the benign restraint upon the will of nation-states that is claimed for it, was constructed precisely in order to ensure the biopolitical control of forced migrants across borders.

The original meaning of asylum – freedom from seizure – only has meaning in a relatively narrow sense today. While refugees might by able to find protection from their pursuers in their country of origin, they end up caught in a web of legal procedures, legal definitions, encampment and detention. Asylum as a space resistant to and beyond sovereign power, has now been subsumed within it through law. Thus the struggle of the refugee, and her supporters, to gain asylum must be one that is waged against refugee law, not within it.

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Dr Simon Behrmanm - Freedom From Seizure Law and Asylum in Conflict - SOAS


About the author

Simon Behrman is a Lecturer in Law at the University of East Anglia, where his teaching mainly focuses on areas of public international law. His current research project revolves around critical and historical paradigms of asylum and the refugee. In addition, he has published articles on police killings and the law, and on the work of Giorgio Agamben.

Organiser: Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies

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