Public policy making on asylum takes place in an environment of intense public scrutiny, strong institutional constraints and international collective action problems. By assessing the relative importance of key pull factors of international migration, this article explains why, even when controlling for their differences in size, some states receive a much larger number of asylum seekers than others. The analysis of 20 OECD countries for the period 1985-1999 further shows that some of the most high profile public policy measures—safe third country provisions, dispersal and voucher schemes—aimed, at least in part, at deterring unwanted migration and at addressing the highly unequal distribution of asylum burdens have often been ineffective. This is because the key determinants of an asylum seeker’s choice of host country are historical, economic and reputational factors that largely lie beyond the reach of asylum policy makers. The paper argues that the effectiveness of unilateral policy measures will be further undermined by multilateral attempts to harmonise restrictive policies and that current efforts such as those by the European Union consolidate, rather than effectively address, existing disparities in the distribution of asylum burdens
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