No analysis of contemporary refugee protection and identity should take place without consideration of historical perspectives. An understanding of historical (and religious) antecedents is crucial to appreciate fully some of the key questions of this volume: who is a ‘refugee’; how that label influences state behaviour towards those seeking asylum; and the broader implications for refugee identity and protection. This chapter has two aims: (a) to provide a foundation for subsequent contributions in this collection and to highlight some of the major concerns with both the Refugee Convention and the framework for international protection in the twenty-first century; and (b) to focus on the Middle East, where the majority of states are not party to the Refugee Convention or Protocol, but which currently hosts millions of displaced people. The discussion opens with a consideration of the Refugee Convention and its Protocol (‘the Refugee Convention’) 1 in their historical contexts, briefly describing the change from group-based to individual protection, the emergence of a legal identity of the refugee, and the subsequent shifts in conceptualisation of both refugee protection and refugee identity that have occurred in the past 60 years. The importance of the UNHCR in this development is highlighted. The chapter then moves on to the second, and main part, and addresses the historical context of forced migration in the Middle East, before exploring the current problems associated with law, refugee identity and protection in the region.