At law's border : unsettling refugee resettlement


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy - PhD




This dissertation looks at the development and operation of the Canadian refugee resettlement program. It queries how law influences the non-legal act of resettlement and conversely how resettlement contorts the law of asylum. Refugee resettlement is a voluntary act by states in which they bring refugees to their territories who have fled elsewhere but who have not received adequate protection. The voluntary nature of resettlement is in contrast to the legal obligation of non-refoulement that states take on with the promise not to send back refugees who reach their territory and claim asylum. Canada is one of the three leading resettlement countries in the world. It has a long-standing resettlement program and employs diverse and creative resettlement models. It is also a program in political and legal flux. Each Canadian resettlement model – government-assisted, private sponsorship, source country, and group processing – is the basis for an analysis of the intersection of rights, responsibility and obligation in the absence of a legal scheme for refugee resettlement. This analysis is supported by an examination of the historical development of the international refugee regime and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee’s challenge in fulfilling a mandate tenuously connected to human rights and comprised of both legal obligations and voluntary burden-sharing. A comparative review of the programs in Australia and the United States, which lead in global resettlement alongside Canada, is undertaken to point out and contrast respective differences, weaknesses, and strengths. This analysis shows how differing models affect the law’s place and influence. With these frameworks, the dissertation offers a comprehensive picture and examination of resettlement in Canada, and contributes to a holistic understanding of international resettlement. Beyond this, the project explores the law’s influence on refugees, from outside of the law, and what this does to their access to protection. Refugee law is approached not from the border or at the point of an asylum claim, but further afield in the operation of the non-legal act of resettlement. Thus the project moves past traditional conceptions of law to consider the multitude of legal influences in both refugee law and policy.

Date Available



Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International




Law, Faculty of