Peril and promise : legal aid and securitized asylum policies


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Master of Laws - LLM




Recent developments in governmental guarantees for legal aid for asylum claimants have corresponded to increased state security measures that restrict refugee claims. This thesis examines the intersection between legal aid, refugee claimants, and securitized and criminalized asylum policies in western states, with a particular focus on the Canadian context. As legal aid becomes a standardized policy response to refugee claimants, its functions are not only of significance to individual nation states, but also to the processes of global migration, and in particular, to international systems of refugee asylum. My argument is that the operation of legal aid for refugee claimants exists on several levels, a duality of purposes that are complexly related and contradictory. On one level, refugee legal aid operates to ensure procedural protection and increase positive outcomes for refugee claimants. On another level, legal aid functions to support developments that seek to control accepted refugee claims. As manifest in migration laws and policies of refugee-receiving nations, these developments are part of the "securitization" and "criminalization" of migration. I argue that legal aid supports the securitization of refugee asylum through its power as a source of legitimacy. As a powerful assertion of state commitments to liberal values and refugee protection, a system of refugee legal aid acts as a legitimacy counterbalance to policies that neglect these commitments in favour of state and societal security. To illustrate my argument that legal aid functions as a support to securitized asylum polices, my primary focus is on legal aid's relationship to the specific asylum polices of Canada, but I also discuss the operation of legal aid in the international sphere, and its use in media reports. As part of the duality of legal aid's operation, I also detail the concrete effects legal aid has on refugee determination tribunal proceedings, in terms of a strong correlation between positive outcomes and legal representation.

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