Undesirable and Unreturnable?

Undesirable and Unreturnable? Policy Challenges around Excluded Asylum-Seekers and Migrants Suspected of Serious Criminality but who cannot be removed

The project ‘Undesirable and Unreturnable?’ brings together a network of academics, policy-makers and policy bodies to stimulate new cross-boundary debate on the challenges posed to national and international public policy by excluded asylum-seekers and other migrants who are suspected of serious criminality but cannot be removed from the territory of a host State.


Project Team, Partners and Funders

Further Information

Impediments to the expulsion of migrants suspected or convicted of serious criminality pose an increasing challenge for public policy in both the national and international spheres. These obstacles can be ‘practical’, such as the lack of means to send the person to their country of origin, or ‘legal’ in nature, as where human rights standards prevent removal. However, even though such cases appear comparatively few in number, they tend to attract significant public interest due to the real concerns that they generate for State migration control, the integrity of the institution of asylum, the role of human rights in contemporary society, and the bringing to justice of perpetrators of serious crimes.

The archetypal expression of this problem is presented by those asylum-seekers excluded from refugee status due to suspected involvement in serious crimes - as defined by Article 1F of the Refugee Convention - but who cannot be removed from the host State’s territory on other legal or practical grounds. The alleged Rwandan genocidaires seeking asylum in the UK are a case in point. A greater tendency to apply exclusion clauses in the last decade means that such cases are becoming increasingly common. Moreover, other migrants who have attracted adverse attention as a result of alleged criminal activities in the host State may end up in a similar situation, including former refugees such as Abu Qatada. The variety of measures adopted by different countries and their often ad hoc suggest that States do not know how to respond effectively to this issue. In the case of non-removable migrants suspected of having committed serious crimes overseas, the host State is faced with further uncertainty over whether it should seek to prosecute such individuals. The challenges here are of a different order, but the response of States is equally hesitant.

These challenges raise formidable empirical and theoretical questions for refugee, criminal and human rights law, as well as for political philosophy and history which, despite their pressing contemporary relevance, have thus far received minimal scholarly attention. By providing a forum for advancing thinking on these topics, the project ‘Undesirable and Unreturnable?’ seeks to integrate a wide range of participants from the academic community and beyond, including new researchers, research students and national and international policy-makers, addressing these issues in a comparative international perspective from the standpoint of both legal and non-legal disciplines.

This ambitious two-year international project is funded by a research network grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and run jointly by the Refugee Law Initiative (School of Advanced Study, University of London) and the Center for International Criminal Justice (VU University Amsterdam, Netherlands).

Publications and Activities

The project launched in October 2014 with the establishment of its research network. In March 2015 a one-day preliminary workshop was held at VU University Amsterdam, which brought together academics from a range of affected countries, State officials responsible for developing and implementing governmental policy and experts from wider international policy bodies.

  • Please click here for further details of the workshop. 
  • A report on the workshop is available here.
  • A selection of papers that were presented at the workshop are available here.

Building on the work conducted at the preliminary workshop, an International Network Conference was held at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in January 2016. This Conference will bring the project’s research network together with a wider network of interested researchers, policy-makers and members of the public.

  • Please click here for the Call for Papers.  

These events were be followed by the publication of a research report and a range of dissemination activities aimed specifically at policy-makers, practitioners and other interested sectors.