Refugees and the Myth of Human Rights: Life Outside the Pale of the Law, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Refugees and the Myth of Human Rights

Life Outside the Pale of the Law, 1st Edition

By Emma Larking


208 pages

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Most Western liberal democracies are parties to the United Nations Refugees Convention and all are committed to the recognition of basic human rights, but they also spend billions fortifying their borders, detaining unauthorised immigrants, and policing migration. Meanwhile, public debate over the West’s obligations to unauthorised immigrants is passionate, vitriolic, and divisive. Refugees and the Myth of Human Rights combines philosophical, historical, and legal analysis to clarify the key concepts at stake in the debate, and to demonstrate the threat posed by contemporary border regimes to rights protection and the rule of law within liberal democracies. Using the political philosophy of John Locke and Immanuel Kant the book highlights the tension in liberalism between partiality towards one’s compatriots and the universalism of human rights and brings this tension to life through an examination of Hannah Arendt’s account of the rise and decline of the modern nation-state. It provides a novel reading of Arendt’s critique of human rights and her concept of the right to have rights. The book argues that the right to have rights must be secured globally in limited form, but that recognition of its significance should spur expansive changes to border policy within and between liberal states.


"This is a penetrating analysis of the springs of human rights and human obligations. It is rigorously argued, and shows how refugees are treated as if they do not truly belong to the category of human beings whose human rights are relevant: that they are beyond the pale of the law. It shows the means by which refugees are unequal and unworthy of full recognition under (the) law." - Julian Burnside, AO QC, Australia.

"A significant contribution to the urgent debate about the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers by liberal states. A unique combination of practice and theory, this book embeds that treatment within a history of abuse and persecution and in a tradition of thought about the state, the nation, and human rights that is implicated in that abuse and persecution." - Phillip Cole, University of the West of England, UK

About the Author

Emma Larking is a Visiting Fellow in the School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet) at the Australian National University.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Emigration & Immigration