Who is a Refugee?
A refugee is a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country … ”
– The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees
What rights does a refugee have?
A refugee has the right to safe asylum. However, international protection comprises more than physical safety. Refugees should receive at least the same rights and basic help as any other foreigner who is a legal resident, including freedom of thought, of movement, and freedom from torture and degrading treatment.
Economic and social rights are equally applicable. Refugees should have access to medical care, schooling and the right to work.
In certain circumstances when adequate government resources are not immediately available, such as the sudden arrival of large numbers of uprooted persons, international organizations such as UNHCR provide assistance. This may include financial grants, food, tools and shelter and basic infrastructure such as schools and clinics. With projects such as income-generating activities and skill training programmes, UNHCR makes every effort to ensure that refugees become self-sufficient as quickly as possible.
Who decides if somebody is a refugee?
Governments establish status determination procedures to decide a person’s legal standing and rights in accordance to their own legal systems. UNHCR may offer advice as part of its mandate to promote refugee law, protect refugees and supervise the implementation of the 1951 Refugee Convention. The agency advocates that governments adopt a rapid, flexible and liberal process, recognizing how difficult it often is to document persecution.
Are persons fleeing war or war-related conditions such as famine and ethnic violence refugees?
The 1951 Geneva Convention, the main international instrument of refugee law, does not specifically address the issue of civilians fleeing conflict, though in recent years major refugee movements have resulted from civil wars, ethnic, tribal and religious violence.
Some countries, particularly in western Europe, argue that civilians fleeing generalized war or who fear persecution by non-governmental groups such as militias and rebels, should not be given formal refugee status. It is UNHCR’s view that the origin of the persecution should not be decisive in determining refugee status, but rather whether a person deserves international protection because it is not available in the country of origin.