Many politicians on both the right and left side of the political spectrum support a nation's right to self-determination. For example many claim that Catalonia should be allowed to become an independent country since Catalan people deserve to live independently from Spain. At the same time many left-wing politicians support the right of a foreign national to enter a given country and apply for asylum despite protests from the local populace.

To me the two concepts go in direct conflict with one another, as a nation that's unable to decide who lives on their territory will eventually lose their identity through immigration, as evidenced by China's assimilation of Tibet through heavy immigration from other Chinese regions.

Does international law provide for a way to resolve the conflict between the two?

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    It has been said before, I will repeat it: "Immigrant != Refugee". Immigrants who are refused the refugee status can (and are) deported. And once the refugee status expires (their country of origin becomes safe again), the refugee can be deported. The numbers of accepted refugees are really small. euronews.com/2017/09/26/…
    – SJuan76
    Jul 3, 2018 at 17:00
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Jul 4, 2018 at 15:10

2 Answers 2


The situation in international law is that sovereign states can exercise sovereignty within their borders, subject to treaty obligations. This means that there is no automatic right for regions to secede, as regions are not sovereign.

There is a treaty obligation to grant refuge and asylum under the Refugee convention of 1951. This requires that people be allowed to apply for asylum, but doesn't require that every applicant receive asylum. So the situation in international law is clear: countries have to fulfil treaty obligations.

I would note that the assumption in your question that freedom of migration leads to cultural extinction is questionable, and I cite the example of Wales, which has been part of a "common travel area" since the Middle Ages, but remains culturally distinct from England. Also you seem to be mixing the concept of asylum with that of immigration. The number of accepted refugees is (outside of world war) very small.

  • In many Western European countries, asylum seeking is a primary way of immigration, the question might refer to that.
    – janh
    Jul 4, 2018 at 15:34

The question does not make much sense from an international law perspective. It might be a staple of some national movements but the right to self-determination was actually a very specific construct related to the decolonization process of the second half of the 20th century. There is no clear basis for arbitrary regions to secede, at least as far as international law is concerned, and therefore no contradiction to resolve.

Also, the law on refugees is a very pragmatic solution to immediate problems, it's designed to deal with emergencies and based on the understanding that you cannot simply manage refugee flows. It's about fundamental individual rights, whereas self-determination is not.

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