Refugee protection—both asylum in the country of first refuge and resettlement to a third country—is a humanitarian endeavor, distinct from economic or labor migration. As victims of persecution, under international law refugees are entitled to specific protections, above all from forcible return, and the humanitarian nature of refugee protection is fundamental. However, what is less clear is the degree to which the right to move freely both within and beyond a country of first asylum can or should be encompassed within the international community’s understanding of what refugee protection involves.
Over the years, there has been growing international recognition that continued movement and migration often play an important role in shaping refugees’ lives after their initial flight, even without the formal legal channels to do so. The economic restrictions placed on refugees in many countries—including prohibitions on the right to work and limitations on movement away from camps—lead many individuals to pursue irregular secondary migration after being granted refugee status, in search of economic opportunity and sometimes even basic physical security. In light of this reality, pursuing labor mobility policies for refugees may make sense for both political and humanitarian reasons, offering the chance to enhance refugee protection while reducing the many costs associated with long-term refugee crises.
This report considers the extent to which labor migration is being used—or could be used in the future—to strengthen the international refugee protection regime and facilitate durable solutions for more refugees. The report also outlines two possible ways that policymakers could facilitate refugees’ freedom of movement: initiatives that take advantage of existing migration pathways and regional freedom-of-movement protocols, and development of temporary and permanent refugee-focused labor migration programs.