Decolonising the Master International Migration and Refugee Law

Below you find the letter of a group of students and alumni of the LLM International Migration and Refugee Law, which they sent to the staff of the programme, expressing their concerns about the Eurocentric character of the Master. We welcome their critical comments and input which makes us rethink our master.  This is an ongoing process in which we hope to continue to involve our Master students.


“May 16, 2022

To the Amsterdam Centre for Migration and Refugee Law:

As current and former students of the IMRL Masters Programme, we write to express shared concerns regarding the eurocentric nature of the programme. We come from various backgrounds and countries of origin; the issues we identify in this letter affect us all, regardless of whether we hail from the Global South or Global North. While this subject has been raised by multiple cohorts, it remains unclear whether or how the programme addresses the feedback. We would therefore like to highlight some of the problems and request answers from the department.

Our greatest concern is that the core curriculum was almost entirely focused on European status determinations. Meanwhile, some topics we regard as relatively universal within the migration and refugee law field were absent, including exploration of UNHCR and IOM. Neither EU nor international labor migration was covered. We acknowledge and appreciate efforts – particularly within elective courses, the first period of Refugee and Family Migration Law and throughout Migration and Legal Remedies (with its inclusion of CAT) – to highlight globally-applicable tools. Yet the scholarship offered on these instruments was overwhelmingly European.

Perspectives of non-Europeans, be they refugees, migrants, lawyers, policy makers, activists, judges or academics, were scarce if not missing altogether. When assigned, readings from the Global South were often absent from class discussions and exams, reflecting a tokenistic rather than inclusive approach. Finally, we have been frustrated with the lack of geographic diversity in publicized employment and internship opportunities, as well as with the disparity of opportunities for non-Dutch-speaking students.

Eurocentrism reproduces and reinforces the exclusionary systems we strive to subvert. The choice of course content – combined with the approach to teaching and the lack of diversity amongst the teaching staff – has served to disadvantage people with non-European educational backgrounds and discourage students from feeling comfortable contributing their voices to class discussions and the academic community. Many such students enrolled with false expectations regarding the curriculum’s relevance to other contexts based on the programme marketing itself as ‘international’. Furthermore, for students who will work in Europe, eurocentrism fails to enrich their education with global insights.

Decolonising the programme means including different voices, as well as constantly questioning the right to exclude and the power migration policies claim over human lives. We understand that students planning to practice in Europe require certain training; we request, however, that much of the solely-European material become elective, making space for more truly international content in the core courses.

In light of the above, we would like to begin a transparent conversation between faculty, staff, students, and alumni regarding these issues. For this to happen, we request that a meeting take place. Given the completion date for the course is soon upcoming and that many students will leave the Netherlands when classes end, in order to facilitate inclusiveness we ask that this conversation take place before the end of this period.

We look forward to hearing from you.


[names of students]”