IR495      Half Unit
The Politics of Displacement and Refuge

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Stephanie Schwartz


This course is available on the MSc in International Relations, MSc in International Relations (LSE and Sciences Po) and MSc in International Relations (Research). This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Priority will be given to students on the MSc in International Relations, MSc in International Relations (Research), and MSc in International Relations (LSE and Sciences Po) programmes.

Course content

The number of forcibly displaced people has nearly doubled in the last decade.  Amid this rise in forced migration, how are states, international organizations, and local communities responding? What is causing this increase in displacement and what are the political consequences - both in the Global North and the Global South? What are the everyday realities of being forcibly displaced? This course takes on these questions as we examine the politics of displacement and the evolution of the global asylum and refugee protection regime.

The course begins with an overview of the historical and legal origins of the asylum and refugee protection regime, including who qualifies as a refugee and asylum-seeker under international law and why. We then explore the disconnect between this foundation and the realities of displacement and mobility today. The course continues with an analysis of the causes and consequences of displacement, followed by an examination of the evolution of state, international and local responses to asylum-seeking. Throughout the course we pay particular attention to the politics of refugee and IDP hosting in the Global South, where the majority of displaced persons live, as well as refugees' and migrants' own perspectives on the experience and politics of displacement.

By the end of the course students will be able to articulate complex issues related to forced migration and global asylum governance; synthesize and critique scholarly work from a variety of disciplines - including political science, sociology, and anthropology; and analyze the causes of displacement and state responses to asylum-seeking.


Lectures and seminars totalling a minimum of 20 hours in the AT. Students on this course will have a reading week in Week 6, in line with departmental policy.

Formative coursework

Students can choose between one of two formative coursework options:

Option 1: Students can produce a case study proposal and a class presentation.

Option 2: Students can produce 1 research proposal in coordination with a London-based migration policy organisation and a class presentation in the Autumn Term (AT).

Indicative reading

  • Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Elena et al., eds. Oxford Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2014.
  • Nguyen, V.T. ed., 2018. The displaced: Refugee writers on refugee lives. Abrams
  • Rawlence, B., 2016. City of thorns: Nine lives in the world's largest refugee camp. Picador.
  • Tinti, P. and Reitano, T., 2018. Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour. Oxford University Press.
  • Hannah Arendt. “We Refugees” (1943) (11 pp)
  • Gammeltoft-Hansen, T., 2014. International refugee law and refugee policy: The case of deterrence policies. Journal of Refugee Studies, 27(4), pp.574-595.

Additional reading

  • Zolberg, Aristide R. 1983 “The formation of new states as a refugee-generating process.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, 467, (1983): 24-38. (14 pp)
  • Martin, D. A. (1991) “The Refugee Concept: On Definitions, Politics, and the Careful Use of a Scarce Resource”. In Adelman, H. (ed.) Refugee Policy: Canada and the United States. Toronto: York Lanes Press, pp. 30-51. (21 pp)
  • Kelley, Ninette. 2001. “The Convention Refugee Definition and Gender-Based Persecution: A Decade's Progress.” International Journal of Refugee Law 13 (4), pp. 559-568 (9 pp)
  • Zetter, R. (2007) “More Labels, Fewer Refugees: Remaking the Refugee Label in an Era of Globalization”. Journal of Refugee Studies, 20(2). (20 pp)
  • Janmyr, M., & L. Mourad. 2018. “Modes of Ordering: Labelling, Classification and Categorization in Lebanon’s Refugee Response.” Journal of Refugee Studies, vol. 31(4), pp. 544-565. (21 pp)
  • Gleditsch, Kristian, and Idean Salehyan. "Refugees and the spread of civil war." International Organization 60.2 (2006): 335-366. (31 pp)
  • Tinti, Peter and Tuesday Reitano. 2016. Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Savior. New York: Oxford University Press. Part I.
  • Arar, R. (2017). “The New Grand Compromise: How Syrian Refugees Changed the Stakes in the Global Refugee Assistance Regime,” Middle East Law and Governance, 9(3), 298-312. (14 pages)
  • McAdam, J. (2014) “Conceptualizing Climate Change-Related Movement.” In Climate Change, Forced Migration and International Law, Oxford: Oxford University Press, Chapter 1
  • De ChaÌ‚tel, F. (2014). “The role of drought and climate change in the Syrian uprising: Untangling the triggers of the revolution.” Middle Eastern Studies, 50(4), 521-535. (14 pp)
  • Khoury, R. B. “Finding Home in War: The history—and limitations—of the international refugee regime.” Lapham’s Quarterly “Roundtable.” 25 January 2017
  • Finnemore, M. and Sikkink, K., 1998. International norm dynamics and political change. International Organization, 52(4), pp.887-917
  • Lamis Abdelaaty (2020), “Rivalry, ethnicity, and asylum admissions worldwide,” International Interactions, DOI: 10.1080/03050629.2020.1814768
  • Gammeltoft-Hansen, T., 2014. International refugee law and refugee policy: The case of deterrence policies. Journal of Refugee Studies, 27(4), pp.574-595.
  • Hansen, R. (2014) “State Controls: Borders, Refugees and Citizenship.” In Oxford Handbook RFMS
  • Costello, C., C. Nalule, & D. Ozkul. 2020. “Recognising refugees: understanding the real routes to recognition,” Forced Migration Review 65, November
  • Hamlin, R., 2012. “International law and administrative insulation: a comparison of refugee status determination regimes in the United States, Canada, and Australia.” Law & Social Inquiry, 37(4), pp.933-968. (35 pp)
  • Zhou, Y.Y. and Shaver, A., 2021. Reexamining the effect of refugees on civil conflict: a global subnational analysis. American Political Science Review, 115(4), pp.1175-1196.
  • Barnett, M. and Finnemore, M., 2012. Rules for the World. Cornell University Press. Chapter 4 “Defining Refugees and Repatriation at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
  • Bradley, Megan. "Rethinking refugeehood: statelessness, repatriation, and refugee agency." Review of International Studies 40, no. 1 (2014): 101-123 (22 pp)
  • Stephanie Schwartz 2019. “Home, Again: Refugee Return and Post-Conflict Violence in Burundi,” International Security 44:2, 110-145


Assessment path 1
Case study (80%) in the WT.
Class participation (20%) in the AT.

Assessment path 2
Research paper (80%) in the WT.
Class participation (20%) in the AT.

Students can choose one of two summative assessment paths listed above.

Key facts

Department: International Relations

Total students 2022/23: 16

Average class size 2022/23: 16

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (MT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills