Temporary refuge from war: Customary international law and the Syrian conflict
The rule of temporary refuge forms the cornerstone of the response of States to large-scale influx of refugees. In the context of civilians fleeing armed conflict, this legal rule imposes a positive obligation on all States to admit and not to return anyone to a situation where there is a risk to life, and to provide basic rights commensurate with human dignity. Also implicit in the rule is the expectation of shared responsibility for large numbers of refugees and of international cooperation towards finding durable solutions. This article examines the customary international law of temporary refuge (also known as temporary protection) in relation to the Syrian conflict. It discusses implementation of the rule in the practice of three countries neighbouring Syria, and in the EU. It finds that the practice of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan has been consistent with the rule of temporary refuge. However, the EU has decided not to use the Temporary Protection Directive; instead individual Member States have relied on the Refugee Convention and EU law, combined with various other measures not pertinent to temporary protection. It is concluded that shared responsibility is the linchpin of temporary refuge. Absent this keystone, the rule of temporary refuge is likely to continue to be implemented primarily in a regional context by those countries nearest to the country affected by the conflict, as in the case of Syria.