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International Migration and Refugee Law



Admissions requirements

Security and Rights (compulsory)
Principles of Public International Law (recommended)
Legal Methods Lab (recommended)


Refugee or Migrant? Who is an ‘Irregular’ Migrant and who is an Asylum Seeker? How should state authorities treat people who cross their borders and enter their territory?
These are all pressing legal questions, which carry with them political ramifications.

The course focuses on the international legal framework governing migration, including the competences and responsibilities of states and the rights and obligations of the individuals involved in migration and forced migration. As different legal regimes apply to different facets of migration (human rights law, refugee law, international criminal law, humanitarian law, labour law et al.), the course covers the sources of law and their interaction on national, European and international level. It addresses the central concepts and terms, the legal principles, the legal remedies and the case law of international and regional courts.

The way in which states in Europe have handled emergency situations at their borders has had a considerable toll on the respect of human rights in Europe. The unprecedented flow of migrants and refugees obliged states, which were unprepared to process the sheer number of arrivals, to establish extemporaneous facilities, reception centres and other installations to detain people arriving in their territories ‘irregularly’. The crisis also reflected systemic problems of migration policies in Europe. On the one hand, there is a general lack of understanding on the boundaries of states’ obligations regarding the treatment of non-nationals under International Law and Human Rights Law. On the other hand, the case law of Human Rights Courts and Commissions and of supranational courts on this issue is not always clear or consistent, while practitioners focus on national immigration laws. Furthermore, the detention conditions of refugees and migrants in certain countries have recently prompted the scrutiny of the International Criminal Court. The headlines across Europe, but also across the world, demonstrate that migration is currently one of the most hotly debated issues in political and legal arenas.

Topics to be covered during the course include:
*Basic Concepts of Migration (Migrants, Refugees, Asylum Seekers)
*Overview of the applicable international and European legal framework related to migration with a focus on human rights
*Forced migration and Refugee Protection
*Immigration Detention
*Law of the Sea and migration
*Principles on entry and reception conditions
*Principles on expulsion and the right to leave
*Trafficking and smuggling of persons
*Regional Institutions (EU) and their role in migration law and policy

Course objectives

After successful completion of this course, the students will be able to
*Explain the main issues, concepts, and legal principles of international migration and refugee law;
*Map the legal sources in international migration and refugee law;
*Evaluate how national, European and international legal norms interact in the field of migration;
*Distinguish the different terms and concepts as employed in legal and political discourse;
*Analyze statutes, cases and other sources of international migration and refugee law;
*Discern relevant facts and apply legal principles to those facts;

Building on the knowledge, the students will be able to:
*Develop legal writing skills, by employing appropriate and academically accepted referencing;
*Describe facts and explain legal reasoning and courts judgments;
*Write and present orally a well-structured legal argument, using different legal sources and literature;
*Undertake a moderate level of analytical examination and original thought;

  • Identify the legal issues apparent within a problem of moderate complexity


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Mode of instruction

The course consists of interactive lectures, including student presentations, class discussion, as well as an interactive, student-led moot court, where the students will present a case as representatives of the State or as migration/refugee lawyers. Teaching materials include primary sources (legal texts and judgments), secondary literature, and a case-study. Active participation of students is highly valued.


*Class participation (10%) (weeks 1-7)
*Oral Presentation/Discussion Leader Assignment (10%) (weeks 1-7)
*Take-home Essay or Case Note (25%) (Mid-Term)
*Moot Court Session (15%) (Week 5/6)
*Final Written Examination (40%) (week 8)


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list

Course textbook to be purchased by students:
*Brian Opeskin, Richard Perruchoud, Jillyanne Redpath-Cross (eds), Foundations of International Migration Law (2012) Cambridge University Press

Course textbooks availability to be arranged via Leiden Library:
*Pieter Boeles, Maarten Den Heijer, Gerrie Lodder, Kees Wouters (eds), European Migration Law (2014) Intersentia

  • Vincent Chetail, International Migration Law (2019) Oxford University Press

Generally recommended readings and research resources:
*Vincent Chetail and Céline Bauloz (eds), Research Handbook on International Law and Migration (2015) Edward Elgar Publishing

  • Vincent Chetail (ed.), International Law and Migration, vols I and II (2016) Edward Elgar Publishing *Richard Perruchoud, Tömölova, Katarina (Eds.), Compendium of International Migration Law Instruments (2007) T.M.C. Asser Press

Additional reading material will be made available on Blackboard.



Assistant Professor Maria Pichou