The Refugee Convention has been described as the definitive articulation of refugee law and the foundation of the international refugee regime; in its absence it seems law has a lesser role in the protection of refugees. Yet the Refugee Convention does not apply in jurisdictions where a majority of refugees live including most states in the Middle East and Asia. Traditional accounts foreground these regions’ hesitant relationship with this regime and the international community has thus taken the lead. This approach results from a legal orientalism that both mischaracterises these regions’ law and legal institutions and compares them to an idealised account of these entities elsewhere. The resulting zone of exception from the international refugee regime is fundamentally unsustainable and privileges international interests. Resistance to this approach, by local practitioners, within these regions has a record worthy of both caution and further examination.