International law requires that a refugee have a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group. It is not enough to be at risk of being persecuted, nor is it even enough to be a member of a particular race or religion. There must be a “nexus” between the danger and one of the five Convention-recognized reasons for persecution. In the 1998 decision in Adan v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, the House of Lords concluded that a man fleeing clan warfare in Somalia could not meet the nexus test. The House of Lords did not doubt that the man was at risk of serious harm at the hands of a rival clan, but the Lords nonetheless declined to recognize his claim. Because Adan and other members of his clan were found to face no greater danger than members of other clans, he could not convince the Lords that the risk to him was for reasons of clan identity (a form of race or nationality). The decision shows how the interpretation of three simple words can determine whether people who escape from the world's most vicious wars will be protected as refugees.
In this Article, we argue that the House of Lords' reasoning in Adan was seriously flawed. The House of Lords correctly recognized that evidence that minorities face a heightened risk of being persecuted can be sufficient to show a nexus to a Convention ground. Yet it erred when it went on to hold that only differentially at-risk individuals or groups can benefit from refugee status. If a person's risk of being persecuted is causally linked to his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, the nexus requirement is satisfied irrespective of whether the applicant is a member of a minority group that is particularly vulnerable to harm.
23 Mich. J. Int’l L. 247 (2002).
Kagan, Michael and Johnson, William P., "Persecution in the Fog of War: The House of Lords’ Decision in Adan" (2002). Scholarly Works. Paper 630.