Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism: A Critique of the Effectiveness of the International Refugee Regime


  • Ivan Ng Yan Chao Nanyang Technological University, Singapore



refugees, migration, politics, international law, philosophy, nation-state


The past few years have seen the issue of refugees rise in prominence, particularly in Europe but also in other parts of the world. It has been almost seven decades since the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was set up and the first international treaty regulating the issue of refugees signed. This article examines the international legal framework governing the issue of refugees and argues that it is ineffectual because refugees are inherently a matter of high politics – refugees are fundamentally a political issue subject to the vicissitudes of politics. The moral and economic justifications for the international refugee regime are also highly contested, and this contestation plays out in the political realm. The international refugee regime and legal regulation of the issue is unlikely to be effective for as long as the nation-state continues to be the primary actor in the international world order. This is because the international refugee regime requires enforcement by states to be effective – however, political, moral and economic vicissitudes across the states involved impede its ability to function in its ideal conception. 


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