Refugee Law


The Convention and the Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees define a refugee as a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country ... ."

This guide focuses on research and resources relating to refugees, migration, human rights, and related issues, such as displaced persons.

Research Guides

Research guides are good sources to consult before and during a research project since they often discuss research methodology and strategy and highlight important print and electronic sources. Listed below are some guide on researching refugee law as well as researching related areas, such as human rights, treaties, and asylum law.

Selected Background and Introductory Sources

These sources are good places to start your research, define terms and concepts, and learn about other materials on point.

International Instruments and Documents

In addition to the Refugee Convention and Protocol there are a number of other relevant human rights treaties, declarations, and other instruments related to refugee law. For a good explanation of international documents and bodies, see Refugee Protection: A Guide to International Refugee Law.

  • UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Provides the text of the convention and protocol, status information, reservations and declarations, handbooks, and ExCom documents, and Travaux préparatoires.
    • REFWORLD. Contains international law, national legislation, and national case law.
    • Legal Protection. Access to Refugee Convention, UNHCR Statute, and  ratification information.
  • UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Web Site. Provides the texts of primary human rights instruments, including instruments related to Nationality, statelessness, asylum and refugees.
  • UN Treaty Collection. Access to the text of many treaties published in UNTS, plus status and ratification information.
    • If you have a citation to UNTS, use HeinOnline to get the text of the agreement (UCB only).
  • OAU/AU Treaties
  • EISIL (Electronic Information System for International Law). See human rights category which provides links to the text of primary human rights and related instruments, plus usable citations, and links to other relevant sites.
  • Flare Index to Treaties
  • University of Minnesota Human Rights Library. A large collection of human rights instruments and documents.
  • International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The ICRC provides access to the Geneva conventions, a humanitarian law treaties database, a national legislation database, and more information.

Selected International Organizations

There are many inter-governmental organizations (IGOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in work relating to refugees.  This is a selective list of these organizations.



U.S. Law

Useful Books and Print Materials
  • USC, USCA, USCS (see Titles 8, 18, 29, and 42) in print.
  • Lexis (Legal > Area of Law-By Topic > Immigration > Statutes & Legislative Materials > USCS - Immigration - Titles 8, 18, 29 and 42).bus
  • Westlaw (FIM-USCA).
  • United States Code.
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Laws, Regulations and Guides


Code of Federal Regulations
  • CFR in print.
  • Bender's Immigration Regulations Service ( [New York] : M. Bender, 1994-) [Patron Services, KF4819 .G61 1994].
  • Lexis (Legal > Areas of Law-By Topic > Immigration > administrative Materials & Regulations > CFR-Immigration Titles).
  • Westlaw (FIM-CFR).
  • FDsys, GPO's Federal Digital collection (2000-present)
  • Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (eCFR).
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Laws, Regulations and Guides
  • HeinOnline (1938-2010) (UCB only)
Federal Register
  • Current issues in print.
  • Lexis (Legal > Areas of Law-By Topic > Immigration > Administrative Materials & Regulations > Federal Register and CFR-Immigration).
  • Westlaw (FIM-FR).
  • Federal Register (GPO Access) (1994-present, plus search engine).
  • Federal Register (USDOJ) (1996-present) .
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Laws, Regulations and Guides
  • HeinOnline (1936-2011)

Administrative Decisions and Case Law

Board of Immigration Appeals Decisions (BIA)
Decisions issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Administrative Appeals Unit ("AAU"). Office of Administrative Appeals
  • Lexis (Legal > Areas of Law-By Topic > Immigration > Administrative Materials & Regulations > Agency Decisions > Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) & AAU Non-Precedent Decisions).
  • Westlaw (FIM-AAU) (from 1989).
OCAHO EFOIA Decisions (Immigration-related decisions issued by the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer of the US DOJ)
  • OCAHO EFOIA Decisions (alphabetical by case name).
  • OCAHO EFOIA Decisions (scroll to the bottom, arranged by volume).
  • Lexis (Legal > Areas of Law-By Topic > Immigration > Administrative Materials & Regulations > AGency Decisions> OFfice of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer Immigration Review Decisions) (from March 1988).
  • Westlaw (FIM-OCAHO) (from March 1988).
Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals Decisions
  • Lexis (Legal > Areas of Law-By Topic > Immigration > Administrative Materials & Regulations > Agency Decisions > Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals Decisions) (from Feb. 1987).
  • Westlaw (FIM-BALCA) (from Nov. 1987).
  • Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals (BALCA) (Office of Administrative Law Judges).
Federal Decisions
  • Lexis (Legal > Areas of Law-By Topic > Immigration > Cases > Federal Immigration Cases).
  • Westlaw (FIM-CS), Supreme Court cases (FIM-SCT), Courts of Appeals Cases (FIM-CTA), and District Court cases (FIM-DCT).
  • Decisions from the Supreme Court.
  • Cases from US Circuit Courts of Appeals.
  • Print resources.

Foreign and Comparative Law

This section of the guide focuses on sources for primary law for selected countries, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. The Law Library collects the law for many jurisdictions, so please ask if you need to research other countries. For more assistance researching foreign law, see the Researching Foreign and Comparative Law guide. Some of the databases listed below with "UCB only" require that you set the proxy settings on your browser in order to access these materials from home. You will also need to enter your CALNET Id and Passphrase to gain access to these databases.



  • Foreign Law Guide (UCB only). Arranged by country, it provides information on the legal system, legal resources, and information about selected legislation by topic. See the following topics: aliens, citizenship and nationality, and immigration and emigration.
  • Refworld (UNHCR). See County Information collection.
  • Annual Review of Population Law. This web site contains a database of summaries and excerpts of legislation, constitutions, court decisions, and other official government documents from every country in the world relating to population policies, reproductive rights and health, women's rights, HIV/AIDS and related topics.
  • Legislationonline. Contains national legislation and other documents from the OSCE participating States regarding human rights issues and the rule of law. See the Citizenship and Migration sections in particular.
  • A Selective List of Guides to Foreign Legal Research (Columbia Law Library). Links to research guides for many countries.
  • Globalex is another collection of foreign law research guides.

Case law

  • Researching Asylum Cases (UC Berkeley Law Library). This guide covers basic case law research for Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States.
  • Refugee Case Law (Universit of Michigan). Database containing contains cases from the highest national courts of Australia, Austria, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
  • WorldLII provides access to cases from many jurisdictions.

Country Information

See also the Researching Human Rights Research Guide for more resources on country condictions.

Locating Books in the Law Library

The Law Library has a tremendous amount of valuable print resources related to refugee law. Use the online catalog, LawCat, to locate relevant books and materials. While keyword searching is a good way to begin one's research, subject searching is also valuable. Relevant subject headings include:

Refugees -- Legal status, laws, etc
Political refugees -- Legal status, laws, etc.
Asylum, Right of --
Women refugees -- Legal status, laws, etc
Forced migration
Refugees -- Protection -- International cooperation
Freedom of movement

Basic Documents on International Migration Law (3rd rev. ed., The Hague; Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers; Cambridge, MA: Sold and distributed in the USA and Canada by Kluwer Law International, 2007).

Francis M. Deng, Internally Displaced Persons: Compilation and Analysis of Legal Norms (New York; Geneva: United Nations, 1998).

Ann Vibeke Eggli, Mass Refugee Influx and the Limits of Public International Law (The Hague; New York: Nijhoff; Norwell, MA: Distributed in North, Central, and South America by Kluwer Law International, 2002).

Agnes Hurwitz, The Collective Responsibility of States to Protect Refugees (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). Also available online.

Human Rights and Forced Displacement (Anne F. Bayefsky and Joan Fitzpatrick eds., The Hague; Boston: M. Nijhoff Publishers, 2000).

Human Rights Protection for Refugees, Asylum-seekers, and Internally Displaced Persons: A Guide to International Mechanisms and Procedures (Joan Fitzpatrick ed., Ardsley, NY: Transnational Publishers, 2002).

Refugees, Asylum Seekers and the Rule of Law: Comparative Perspectives (Susan Kneebone ed., Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Refugee Law Reader: Cases, Documents, and Materials (5th ed., Rosemary Byrne ed.).

Refugee Protection in International Law (Feller et al., eds., Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003). Available on the UNHCR web site.

Refugees, Asylum Seekers and the Rule of Law: Comparative Perspecitives (Susan Kneebone ed., Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Thomas Spijkerboer, Gender and Refugee Status (Aldershot, Hants, England; Burlington, Vt., USA: Ashgate/Dartmouth, 2000).

Mark Von Sternberg, The Grounds of Refugee Protection in the Context of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law: Canadian and United States Case Law Compared (The Hague; New York: M. Nijhoff Publishers, 2002).

Journal Literature

Please consult the Sources for Locating Journal Articles guide. This guide will highlight the best sources, beyond full-text articles on Lexis and Westlaw, for locating relevant journal articles. A thorough researcher will search journal indexes in order to find articles on the topic, see Index to Legal Periodicals (ILP), Legal Resource Index (LRI), Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (IFLP), Legal Journals Index (LJI), and Current Index to Legal Periodicals (CILP). Depending on the topic, law-related journal indexes are useful as well.

To access three journal indexes, use Westlaw.  Type in the database identifiers (ILP, LRI, LJI) into the box labeled "Search for a Database" and you can search all three indexes at the same time. 

Along with journal literature, working papers are another excellent source for commentary and analysis.

Other Useful Resources

The web sites of these organizations, groups and governmental bodies may provide some useful information on immigration and refugee issues.


Last edited by Marci Hoffman, 19 September 2011