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Refugees and the Arab Middle East: Protection in States Not Party to the Refugee Convention

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

REF-ARAB studies refugee protection in the Arab Middle East. Photo: Pinky Binks

About the Project

What does refugee protection look like in states facing extraordinary refugee influxes and who are not party to the key international legal instruments providing for the protection of the world's refugees?

The states of the AME are at the frontier of the international refugee regime; few have signed the Refugee Convention and no states have developed comprehensive national asylum systems. Yet, the region has long been one of the world's major producers of refugees.

This interdisciplinary project seeks to explore the conceptualizations and manifestations of refugee protection in these AME states. It offers a broad perspective that historically and politically situates these states within the international refugee regime, and a focused perspective that socio-legally grounds refugee protection in lived experiences and local initiatives.


The REF-ARAB project will:

  1. Study the historical and political circumstances related to why so many states in the Arab Middle East (AME) have remained non-parties to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (the Refugee Convention);
  2. Explore how the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) executes its mandate to provide international protection to refugees in these same states; and
  3. Examine the avenues available for refugees in these countries by means of non-governmental legal aid organizations in securing legal protection on the basis of human rights instruments and other domestic legislation.


The REF-ARAB project draws together an international and interdisciplinary research team, and their findings will be disseminated through a series of high-profile academic publications and innovative forms of popular scientific communication. The project carries great societal significance – for refugees themselves, for AME states hosting large refugee populations, and for European states (Norway included) seeking to develop their support of refugees in the region and concerned about the impact of failures of protection.


REF-ARAB is funded by the Research Council of Norway's independent projects (FRIPRO) programme.


The REF-ARAB project is led by Professor Maja Janmyr and includes collaborators from the University of Glasgow, University of Warwick, the University of York and Erbil Polytechnic University. The project additionally employs two postdoctoral research fellows at the University of Oslo.

Selected publications

Peer-reviewed journal articles

Lysa, Charlotte. “Governing refugees in Saudi Arabia: 1938-present." Refugee Survey Quarterly (2022).

Milch, Nora. "Syrisk flyktning eller arbeidsmigrant? Flyktningebeskyttelse og risiko for tvangsretur under Libanons kafala-system." Babylon Nordisk tidsskrift for Midtøstenstudier (forthcoming 2022).

Janmyr, Maja. "Refugee Participation through Representative Committees: UNHCR and the Sudanese Committee in Beirut." Journal of Refugee Studies (2022).

Janmyr, Maja and Lysa, Charlotte. "UNHCR’s Expansion to the GCC states: Establishing a UNHCR Presence in Saudi Arabia 1987-1993." Middle East Critique (forthcoming 2022).

Rahal, Malika, and White, Benjamin Thomas. "UNHCR and the Algerian war of independence: postcolonial sovereignty and the globalization of the international refugee regime, 1954–63." Journal of Global History (2022).

Janmyr, Maja. "Sudanese refugees and the “Syrian refugee response” in Lebanon: Racialised hierarchies, processes of invisibilisation and resistance" Refugee Survey Quarterly (2021).

Peer-reviewed book chapters

Janmyr, Maja. "Refugees, Peacemaking and Durable Solutions to Displacement" in Wanis-St. John A. & MacGinty R., Contemporary Peacemaking: Peace Processes, Peacebuilding and Conflict. Palgrave: Macmillan (2021).

Janmyr, Maja and Stevens, Dallal. "Regional Refugee Regimes: Middle East" in Costello C., Foster M. & McAdam J., Oxford Handbook of International Refugee Law. Oxford University Press (2021).

Tags: Refugee and Asylum Law, Human Rights, Public International Law, Migration
Published Aug. 12, 2019 4:39 PM - Last modified Nov. 23, 2022 11:42 AM


Principal Investigator (PI): Maja Janmyr