Should the Refugee Convention be amended?

Answer the following question. Your answer should be in the form of an essay of approximately 2000 words, excluding the reference list (Harvard style). You should refer to at least 20 references in your answer.

QUESTION: Should the Refugee Convention be amended? If so, why, how, and what impact would this have? Your answer should demonstrate an understanding of forced migration challenges we might reasonably face in the future.

Note: I have asked the teacher whether “we” refers to “Australians” or “people of the world”. Will notify you once teacher replies.

Link to the Convention:

PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING (notes from the teacher):

The Refugee Convention is an imperfect document, shaped at a particular time and place.

Arguably, it is inadequate to deal with the vast complexities of people movement throughout the world.

This week we examine the debates about reshaping, or abandoning altogether, the Refugee Convention.

We consider, on one hand, the argument that the Convention unfairly restricts the ability of states to protect their borders against unauthorised migration, and that the Convention should thus be amended to give states more rights, or that states should withdraw completely.

On the other hand, we consider the argument that the Convention should be broadened to provide rights to refugees who move for reasons other than persecution, including poverty, civil unrest, discrimination, or environmental degradation.

Other arguments include the idea that an additional complementary system is needed

but warn that to alter the Convention itself risks reducing its power altogether.

The readings below present different sides of this debate:

Khalid Koser writes about Australia’s relationship with the Refugee Convention and asks whether the Convention is still relevant to Australia.

Alexander Betts argues for international protection law to be broadened to include so-called ‘Survival Migration’ – and also, that this term replace the concept of ‘economic migration’ that we hear so often.

Jane McAdam considers the challenge to the refugee protection regime by climate migration – but argues that the Refugee Convention is not the right instrument to address this issue.

Bob Birrell and Adrienne Millbank neatly summarises arguments for Australia to abandon the Convention altogether.

 The list below contains some key references to get you started in your research on the essay topics-Note that these are only a start:

Nethery, A 2014, ‘Australia, ASEAN and Forced Migration in Asia in S Percival Wood & B He (eds), The Australia-ASEAN Dialogue: Tracing 40 Years of Partnership, Palgrave, chapter 6, pp 107-124.


Note: This chapter (chapter 6 of the e-book) provides the historical context of the Refugee Convention in Asia and Australia, and explains the legacy of this history for refugees and asylum seekers in the region today. 


Koser, K. 2015, Australia and the 1951 Refugee Convention, Lowy Institute, 30 April.

Notes: A comprehensive argument questioning the continued relevance of the Refugee Convention to Australia.

Betts, A. 2013, Survival Migration: Failed Governance and the Crisis of Displacement, Review by B. Mayer, Journal of Refugee Studies, 27 (2), 301-2.

Notes: This is a review of Alexander Betts’ compelling book

McAdam, J. 2013, ‘What to do about climate migration?’ The Interpreter, Lowy Institute, 1 July.

 Notes: Jane McAdam argues against including people displaced by climate change under the auspices of the Refugee Convention. 

Birrell, B. and Millbank, A. 2011, Why Australia should abandon the Refugee ConventionThe Conversation, 18 November.

Notes: Bob Birrell and Adrienne Millbank present here an argument that has much support among some Australian politicians and sections of the community. The article is from 2011, but these arguments are often cited.

Albert, S. and colleagues 2016, Sea-level rise has claimed five whole islands in the Pacific: First scientific evidence The Conversation, 7 May.

Notes: Climate change is already resulting in forced migration from Pacific islands.










Attached 3 pdf articles and two PowerPoint files.

Marking criteria:

When marking, the assessor will consider the following:


  • Has the student followed the instructions and guidelines? 
  • Has the student demonstrated a good understanding of the topic and its debates?
  • Has the student demonstrated critical thinking and analytical skills when answering the question?
  • Has the student engaged with a sufficient number of quality references to answer the question?
  • Is the task well presented, including clear and formal writing, and the correct use of the Harvard referencing system? 

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