For all of its value as a critical mechanism of human rights protection, international refugee law is not an all-encompassing remedy. In at least two ways, the category of persons of concern to refugee law is significantly more narrow than the universe of victims of human rights abuse. First, only persons able somehow to leave their own country can be refugees. Alienage is a requirement for refugee status because of concerns about the limits of international resources and the potential for responsibility-shifting, as well as in recognition of the fundamental constraints which sovereignty still places on meaningful intervention by the international community. Second, not even all persons in flight from serious human rights abuse and who manage somehow to make their way to an asylum state qualify as refugees under international law. Only those able to show that their fear of being persecuted is "for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion" are entitled to the protection of the Refugee Convention. This second fundamental limitation on access to refugee status is the subject of this special collection of essays.
Hathaway, James C. "The Causal Nexus in International Refugee Law." Foreword to Mich. J. Int'l L. 23, no. 2 (2002): 207-9.