Refugee Law (Khoday)

Course Number
LAW 3980
Course Description

Throughout history, people have been forced to migrate due to persecution, war and/or other perilous circumstances. Those seeking refugee status in other countries must undergo processes to determine whether their claims for asylum are valid under applicable legal standards. This course examines the various components of refugee law within international, regional and national frameworks. The course considers Indigenous practices related to historical practices of protection for those fleeing persecution and seeking protection within Indigenous communities. The course will analyze international treaties and other materials produced by organizations such as the United Nations and specific agencies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. With respect to national frameworks, emphasis will be placed on the Canadian legal context, while sources and materials from other national jurisdictions will also be employed to provide useful comparisons and contrasts.

Throughout the course, students will become knowledgeable with the complexities of how refugee status is defined and the ways in which asylum seekers may be excluded from obtaining this status. Students will also become familiarized with certain key administrative law issues connected with refugee status determinations.

The following are topics that are likely to be covered during the semester:

  • Concepts such as persecution, state protection and internal flight alternatives;
  • Specific grounds for persecution with a special focus on “political opinion” and “membership in a particular social group”;
  • Grounds for exclusion – article 1F of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees –commission of certain crimes, e.g. war crimes, crimes against humanity, serious non-political crimes and crimes that are contrary to the principles and purposes of the United Nations;
  • Administrative law issues related to reasonable apprehension of bias, procedural fairness, and standards of review;
  • Evidentiary issues in mounting a claim for refugee status;
  • Different routes available for individuals to seek refugee status.

Please note: This course does not cover Canadian immigration law relating to economic or family class admissions. The Citizenship and Immigration Law course addresses these and other topics and does not overlap with this course.

Teaching Method

This is a seminar course. Students will be expected to take an active role throughout the semester.
Except in connection with certain specified portions of the course, use of laptops will not be permitted during the course.


Argumentative Research Paper (minimum of 7,500 words excluding footnotes): (60%)
This mode of evaluation will comprise the largest portion of each student’s grade in the course. Subject to approval by the course instructor (see below), each student is expected to submit an original argumentative research paper concerning refugee law. Significant leeway will be given to students to explore various aspects of refugee law. Students are expected to develop an original argument in connection with their topic of interest. Papers that are largely descriptive are not acceptable.

There are a wide variety of subjects to address in a research paper and methodologies one might employ. Students are encouraged to consult with the instructor early in the semester.

Argumentative Research Paper Proposal: (5%)
Students are required to submit a paper proposal at an early stage in the course that sets out the topic, the tentative argument, sources to be used, and methodology to be employed.

Legal Analysis Assignment: (15%)
Students will be required to complete a legal analysis assignment. Students may be permitted to work individually or in groups of up to three students (depending on the overall enrolment in the course). Through this assignment, students will be expected to engage in an interpretive analysis of a specific provision under international law or national legislation. Students will be provided all the material to be used and are not expected to engage in further research.

Class Participation: (20%)

Discussant Role (7.5%)
a. Each student will be expected to serve as a discussant for at least one class session during
the semester. A seminar discussant assumes a more active and leading role in responding to questions posed by the instructor or other class participants.

Participation throughout the course (7.5%)
a. The description should now read as follows: Each student is expected to participate in class discussions throughout the semester. This particular mark is separate from a student’s role as a discussant (as indicated above) or their paper presentation.

Paper Presentation (5%)
a. Each student will present their paper to the class during a designated date in one of the final classes of the semester.

Course Materials

No textbook will be used. Assigned readings will include: (1) international treaties; (2) national legislation; (3) Canadian and foreign case law; and (4) secondary literature – e.g. academic articles. Materials will either be available online from specific websites or from UM Learn.