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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

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Publication Date

Spring 2022




Boston University School of Law




Wealthy refugee-receiving countries across the global north have recently been experimenting with systems that they believe will allow them lawfully to remove or turn back asylum-seekers reaching their borders, without considering their claims for international protection. These include the Trump administration's Asylum Cooperation Agreements (ACAs), the United Kingdom's Nationality and Borders Act, and the recent amendments to Denmark's Aliens Act that will allow asylum-seekers to be transferred to third countries for processing. Although these systems have many important differences, they rest on a shared premise that neither the Refugee Convention nor international, regional or domestic human rights laws prohibit such transfers, as long as they are to a "safe first country of asylum," in which the transferees have previously had access to protection, or a "safe third country," where they will in theory have access to protection in the future.

This article will first look at the history of "safe country" rules and procedures in North America before exploring litigation over such rules in the United Kingdom, in order to identify emerging legal norms limiting or prohibiting "safe country" transfers. We will argue that although there is a clear legal consensus that transfer cannot take place without an individualized assessment of whether it would put an asylum-seeker at risk of refoulement or inhuman and degrading treatment, there is so far little indication of consensus on the need to ensure access to the positive benefits of refugee status, such as housing, education, employment and eventual integration, or on the relevance to the legality of the transfer of social and cultural ties or private and family life.

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