The UN Refugee Convention - An obstacle to national refugee legislation in a globalized world? An analysis of the conflict between national and international refugee law

Mehtap Yilmaz Kutlu

Student thesis: Master thesis


The liberal Danish Aliens Act from 1983 has undergone various changes and was transformed into a restrictive Aliens Act over the period from 1983-2016. The change of government in 2001 and the consequently tighter regulations in the Aliens Act, together with the regulations that were rushed through the Danish Parliament in 2015 due to the rush of refugees into Denmark, have been turning points in the Danish refugee policy. The latest and controversial tightening of the asylum rules in 2015, which reduce the rights of refugees significantly, has given rise to criticism by national and international human rights organizations, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This thesis examines the conflict between international and national law in the refugee area and argues that different opinion formations of the concept of ‘refugee’ are fundamental to this conflict and debate about the actuality and legitimacy of the UN Refugee Convention. The thesis also argues that understanding the consequences of globalization, such as the breakdown of national borders which has made nations more sensitive to global events such as war and terror, are fundamental in understanding the political debate about the UN Refugee Convention and the tightening of the Aliens Act. Globalization has resulted in an increased national risk-consciousness and thus an increased need to protect national borders and values, which gives the concept of ‘risk society’ new relevance. To demonstrate this argument, the thesis examines how the UN Refugee Convention conceptualizes a refugee, starting with an examination of the development of the treatment of refugees from 1920 until the UN Refugee Convention was created in 1950. Based upon the historical background of the foundation of the UN Refugee Convention, the thesis reveals that the Refugee Convention conceptualizes refugees as ‘political heroes’ who need state protection. Starting in a case study about the development of the Danish refugee policy during 1983-2016, the thesis furthermore examines how refugees are conceptualized in Danish politics with a narrow focus on the political discourse, and finds that refugees are conceptualized as individuals with a need for protection, who at the same time constitute a potential threat to Danish national cohesion and security. Viewed in the light of these results from the examination of the conceptualization of refugees, the thesis reaches the conclusion that the Danish conceptualizing of refugees differs from the UN Refugee Convention’s conceptualizing of refugees because it is no longer the risks that exist in the life of the refugees that are in focus, but rather the risks that the refugees constitute to national security and to the welfare state and that there has been a paradigm shift in the view of refugees in Danish politics

EducationsMA in International Business Communication (Intercultural Marketing), (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2017
Number of pages98
SupervisorsMaj Grasten