• Steven Loyal
  • Stephen Quilley


In everyday discourse the terms ‘immigrant’, ‘asylum seeker’, and ‘refugee’ are often used interchangeably. Although the distinction is highly problematic (Loyal 2008), those who migrate for economic reasons and those who flee because of political persecution are judged very differently, in both law and the court of public opinion. By definition, an ‘asylum seeker’ designates someone seeking refugee status. Emerging first in the context of protocols developed by the League of Nations after the First World War, the modern definition and procedures have been elaborated by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). By becoming a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention in 1956, Ireland became obliged to grant special protection to citizens of states that could not guarantee their human rights or physical security. The refugee system was constructed during the very specific ideological and historical conditions of post-war upheaval—conditions that had a marked impact on both the technical definition of refugee status and the configuration of state procedures and obligations. Premised on a system of nation-states with fixed borders, the UNHCR’s principal aim was to guarantee and provide international protection and assistance to individuals who had become displaced by the Second World War. With the signing of the 1967 Bellagio Protocol, and as the problem of displaced people became more global, this remit for protection was later extended beyond Europe to encompass refugees from all over the world. The standardization of procedures dealing with mass displacement led to the concept of ‘refugee’ becoming institutionalized as a way of labelling and treating individuals as a distinct type of person with a determinate social status.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven Loyal
    • 1
  • Stephen Quilley
    • 2
  1. 1.University College DublinDublinIreland
  2. 2.University of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

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