The Growing Influence of the Courts over the Fate of Refugees

  • Dagmar Soennecken


A number of migration scholars suggest that domestic courts have become the key protective institution for refugees. How can we explain this claim? One prominent explanation identifies group litigation as the key source of the increasing influence of the courts. How well does this explanation travel empirically? The article evaluates this explanation by examining the puzzling behaviour of German refugee NGOs. They have not entered the legal arena directly (either as parties or as interveners), nor have they concentrated on developing extensive litigation campaigns. Still, they are remarkably ‘judicialized’: their frequent engagement with the law in other respects has heightened their legal consciousness. Why have German refugee NGOs made such different choices than their North American counterparts and what do these choices tell us about the expanding influence of the courts over the fate of refugees in Germany and North America? To make sense of the different choices that these organizations have made, we need to understand the role that institutional norms and procedures, in particular policy legacies, have played in directing the behaviour and identity of these groups. For a number of reasons, German refugee NGOs historically have been discouraged from directly accessing the courts in favour of indirect participation. Since Canadian and American refugee organizations follow a pattern closer to the expectations of the (largely North American) literature on the subject, we need to be more careful in thinking through ou

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