Protecting Migrants in Vulnerable Situations: The Principle of Non-Refoulement in International Human Rights Law

Among the millions of migrants worldwide, too many are forced to embark on a dangerous journey because of a combination of intertwined reasons, such as armed conflicts, poverty, food insecurity, persecution, terrorism, human rights violations, or the adverse effects of climate change, natural disasters and environmental degradation. Those migrants are likely to find themselves in vulnerable situations in destination countries as they are not always eligible for refugee status or other forms of complementary protection. Nonetheless, they are still protected by international human rights law, including the cornerstone principle of non-refoulement.

This principle of international law has been endorsed in a broad range of treaties and other international instruments. Due to this plurality of sources, the prohibition of refoulement has been subjected to various interpretations that undermine its understanding and effective application.

Against such a background, this research project – jointly led by the Global Migration Centre (GMC) and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – will assess the scope and content of the principle of non-refoulement under international human rights law, focusing on the United Nations core human rights treaties. Its objective is to provide a coherent frame of interpretation, as well as to enable enhanced protection of migrants in a vulnerable situation and stronger respect for the non-refoulement principle.


Research team

Vincent Chetail (GMC), Project Director
Pia Oberoi (OHCHR), Project Co-Director
Genevieve Sauberli (OHCHR), Researcher
Sophie Capicchiano Young, Research Assistant


Related Publications



The Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights of Migrants in the Context of Large Movements

Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
A/HRC/33/67, 13 September 2016

Situation of Migrants in Transit

Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
A/HRC/31/35, 27 January 2016


The Transfer and Deportation of Civilians

Vincent Chetail
in: A. Clapham, P. Gaeta & M. Sassoli (eds), The Geneva Conventions: A Commentary
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 1185-1213

Are Refugee Rights Human Rights? An Unorthodox Questioning on the Relations between Refugee Law and Human Rights Law

Vincent Chetail
in: R. Rubio Marin (ed), Human Rights and Immigration
Collected Courses of the Academy of European Law, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 12-72

Armed Conflict and Forced Migration: A Systemic Approach to International Humanitarian Law, Refugee Law, and Human Rights Law

Vincent Chetail
in: A. Clapham & P. gaeta (eds), The Oxford Handbook of International Law in Armed Conflict
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 700-734

The Transnational Movement of Persons under General International Law - Mapping the Customary Foundations of International Migration Law

Vincent Chetail
in: V. Chetail & C. Bauloz (eds), Research Handbook on International Law and Migration
Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2014, pp. 1-72

Stranded Migrants: Giving Structure to a Multifaceted Notion

Vincent Chetail & Matthias A. Braeunlich
Global Migration Research Paper Series
No. 5, 2013

Le Comité des Nations Unies contre la torture et l'éloignement des étrangers: dix ans de jurisprudence

Vincent Chetail
Revue suisse de droit international et européen
No. 1, 2006, pp. 63-104

Le droit des réfugiés à l'érpeuve des droits de l'homme: bilan de la jurisprudence de la Cour européenne des droits de l'homme sur l'interdiction du renvoi des étrangers menacés de torture et de traitements inhumains ou dégradants

Vincent Chetail
Revue belge de droit international
Vol. 37, No. 1, 2004, pp. 155-210


Le principe de non-refoulement et le statut de réfugié en droit international

Vincent Chetail
in:  V. Chetail & J.-F. Flauss (eds), La Convention de Genève du 28 juillet 1951 relative au statut des réfugiés – 50 ans après: bilan et perspectives
Collection de l’Institut International pour les Droits de l’Homme, Bruxelles: Bruylant, 2001, pp. 3-61


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