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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .

Who is a Refugee
Edited by Jean-Yves Carlier, Dirk Vanheule, Klaus Hullmann & Carlos Peņa Galiano.

(The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1997)
794 pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: US$25.00; ISBN 90-411-0348-1.

Sovereign states, especially in the past century, have established extensive apparatuses for determining and controlling who may or may not be eligible for membership (i.e. citizenship) in the political community. As its title suggests, the focus of Who is a Refugee? A Comparative Case Law Study is to provide a thorough overview of the case law and state procedures relevant to determining who is an "authentic" refugee and thus eligible for protection and/or asylum. This is certainly a timely endeavour as not only do the number of refugees worldwide continue to increase (from 1.5 million refugees in 1951, to over 14 million in 1995, together with an additional 13 million returnees, internally and otherwise displaced people) but the conditions and circumstances that bring about these mass movements have also multiplied. Indeed, the largely unprecedented polymorphism and complexity in the causes, underlying dynamics, and effects of global refugee flows reminds us that this political phenomenon continues to be one of the most pressing facing modern political practice, analysis, and theory.

In this work, Jean-Yves Carlier and his co-editors set out to address the question of who qualifies for refugee status in two stages. The first part of the book consists of national reports on the case law relevant to determining refugee status for each of the fifteen different states considered. With nearly five thousand decisions recorded and one thousand five hundred considered, this is by far the most substantial section of the book and will serve as an invaluable resource to refugee scholars, advocates, and decision-makers. The content of these reports is mainly descriptive in nature, while the format is similarly structured so as to facilitate cross-national comparisons. While it is unfortunate that only European and North American states are considered, what is most striking about these reports is the disarmingly similar way in which these states have reformed their refugee policies. On the whole-and despite some laudable innovations by countries such as Canada on gender persecution-Western states have increased restrictions, tightened procedures, shortened time-lines, and in general made the goal of attaining asylum more difficult.

How then should this crisis in the asylum cultures of Western nations be confronted and resolved? The second section of the book consists of a concluding general report by Jean-Yves Carlier which tries to address this crucial problem. While one could question Carlier's liberal assumption that the harmonization of state policies will lead to a more efficacious system, or raise some concerns with his recommendation that refugee status should be limited to those individuals whose life experiences correspond with the Geneva Convention definition, readers should take seriously the very interesting-and innovative-procedure he outlines for answering the question "Who is a refugee?" Carlier employs the "Theory of the Three Scales" to investigate three crucial components to the refugee determination process-that is, verifying that the degree of risk, persecution, and proof is sufficiently established in order to grant the applicant asylum. This interpretive section of the book will be of special interest not only to refugee practitioners and decision-makers, but also to refugee advocates, legal theorists, and students of global population flows.

Peter Nyers,

Peter Nyers, York University (Toronto)

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