In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt is famously scathing of the societies established between World Wars I and II to advocate on behalf of refugees and advance the protection of human rights. In Arendt's view, 'all societies formed for the protection of the Rights of Man … showed an uncanny similarity in language and composition to that of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals'. The human rights they invoked were nothing more than 'the standard slogan of the protectors of the underprivileged, a kind of additional law, a right of exception necessary for those who had nothing better to fall back upon' (1968b, 293). In this article, I compare the position of exiles now living in or seeking to gain entry to Western states to that of Arendt's interwar refugees. I argue that for the modern-day exile, human rights continue to function inadequately as 'a kind of additional law … for those who [have] nothing better to fall back upon'. I conclude that contemporary exiles have much in common with Arendt's interwar refugees, and pose similar dilemmas insofar as the invocation of universal human rights is concerned.