International refugee law has evolved as a means of control over the refugee. The first principles on which it has been built place the rights of the state above those of the refugee. Insofar as there is such a thing as a ‘right of asylum’, it is a right vested in the state rather than the refugee. As such, from the perspective of seeking a protection regime that places the needs of the refugee at its centre, it is a system that is fundamentally unreformable. My argument rests upon the historical development of the first principles developed by jurists from the seventeenth century through to the twentieth century, on the basis of historical development of refugee law between the two world wars, and on the drafting history of the 1951 Refugee Convention and its subsequent implementation.