The ‘Gänseliesel’ (Goose Girlis), a historical fountain erected in 1901, represents the most well-known landmark of the city of Goettingen.

Rights at the Frontier: Border Control and Human Rights Protection of Irregular International Migrants

Julian M. Lehmann



In light of recent events causing people’s movement into Europe, continued misuse of the term “migrant” in policy making and public discourse, and at the occasion of events celebrating the international regime of refugee protection, the human rights protection of irregular migrants is explored in relation to irregular migrants’ entry/admission and expulsion/deportation. The term “migrant” has, in contrast to the term “refugee”, no bearing on whether or not an international migrant has a need for international protection. While many irregular migrants have no such need, other migrants may be refugees or be in need of international protection “outside” the framework of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The paper analyses the international human rights law framework applying to individuals with and without need for international protection, when their claims have a socio-economic dimension. The principle of non-refoulement remains the most important source of protection for irregular migrants; it is not concerned with the irregular status of a migrant and also has a bearing on procedural rights in status determination. Socio-economic motivations for flight are not a bar to being a refugee within the meaning of the 1951 Convention, if their underlying cause is persecution, or if motives are mixed. Refugee law can accommodate such claims and overcome a strict dichotomy but is currently only rarely and restrictively applied in this regard. In expulsion cases, virtually only the prohibition of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment is relevant. For individuals that have no need for international protection there are mitigating individual circumstances which a state has to take into account. All pertinent norms of international human rights law apply without distinction and irregular migrants may have, just as refugees may have, humanitarian needs that states should meet


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