The long-running controversy in international refugee law over the concept of safe third countries is particularly challenging when refugees migrate irregularly from urban settings. While urban-based refugees often face a distinct set of human rights violations, the complexity that characterizes how these abuses fit into the larger picture of urban poverty and state ineffectiveness, combined with continued ambiguity concerning the minimal standards of protection necessary to allow a state to return a refugee to a first country of asylum, allows receiving states to deny protection obligations by relying on the argument that the hardships compelling movement, if they did not amount to a threat of refoulement, do not fundamentally differ from those facing the national urban poor. Since 2005, increasing numbers of Sub-Saharan African refugees have crossed from Egypt into Israel via the Sinai border, most reporting that harsh living conditions and acute vulnerability to violence and exploitation in Egypt left them with no choice but to move on illegally. While Israel has refrained from deporting the vast majority, it continues to deny its legal obligations to those arriving from Egypt, arguing that most had obtained protection from persecution and that their reasons for movement are instead primarily economic. Based on information obtained from interviews with refugees in Tel Aviv and Cairo, this study aims to more clearly define Israel's legal obligations by carrying out an analysis of the conditions compelling movement based on the principles developed in R. (Adam, Limbuela, and Tesema) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department (2005) a landmark case which expanded the meaning and scope of the international prohibition on cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. I do not attempt to assess comprehensively the empirical nature of migration from Egypt to Israel, but rather to use this sample of interviews as a case study to apply this emerging area of law to bridge the gap between the realities compelling onward movement from urban contexts and the minimal constraints on return currently accepted as binding.


School of Global Affairs and Public Policy

Degree Name

MA in International Human Rights Law

First Advisor

Kagan, Michael

Document Type



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