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Since its inception 50 years ago, the international asylum regime has shifted through a series of discernibly different approaches. The most recent approach has been characterized by restrictions on asylum-seekers, manifested initially through a reluctance to grant asylum, and today through a reluctance even to admit asylum-seekers.

There is now a growing consensus that this approach is unsustainable. States are recognizing that restrictions have not fulfilled their original aims of reducing the number of asylum-seekers, and furthermore have had unintended consequences that include the growth of human smuggling and trafficking.

UNHCR is concerned about the erosion of the entire concept of asylum. Asylum advocates, NGOs and human rights activists argue that restrictions have impacted as heavily on those who need international protection as on those who do not. As a result, a wide range of new initiatives are being proposed, which may pave the way for the evolution of a new approach to asylum.

This article analyses the evolution of restrictions in the asylum regime, explains the failing of this approach, and finally reviews possible ways forward.