International Status of Refugees – An Overview

By | November 12, 2017
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We come across so many articles, journals, news almost on a daily basis regarding the refugees be it the crises faced by them or regarding their conditions or even their sustenance. A refugee is somebody who has been compelled to escape his or her nation in view of abuse, war, or savagery. A refugee has a very much established dread of mistreatment for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political feeling or participation in a specific social gathering.

In all probability, they can’t return home or are hesitant to do as such. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are driving reasons for refugees escaping their nations. Therefore a major legal step was taken to deal with this issue, that is, the introduction of the Refugee Convention.


According to Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of human rights 1948, which recognizes the right of persons to seek asylum from persecution in other countries, the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, adopted in 1951, is the centerpiece of international refugee protection today.

The Convention entered into force on 22 April 1954, and it has been subject to only one amendment in the form of a 1967 Protocol, which removed the geographic and temporal limits of the 1951 Convention.

The 1951 Convention, as a post-Second World War instrument, was originally limited in scope to persons fleeing events occurring before 1 January 1951 and within Europe. The 1967 Protocol removed these limitations and thus gave the Convention universal coverage. It has since been supplemented by refugee and subsidiary protection regimes in several regions, as well as via the progressive development of international human rights law.

The 1951 Geneva Convention is the principle global instrument of displaced person law. The Convention unmistakably explains who a refugee is and the sort of legitimate security, other help, and social rights he or she ought to get from the nations who have marked the report.

The Convention also defines refugee’s obligations to host governments and certain categories or people such as war criminals, who do not qualify for refugee status. It was constrained to ensuring primarily European outcasts in the result of World War II, yet another report, the 1967 Protocol, extended the extent of the Convention as the issue of relocation spread far and wide.

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Mediterranean Sea / Italy: Italian navy rescues asylum seekers traveling by boat off the coast of Africa. More than 2,000 migrants jammed in 25 boats arrived in Italy June 12, 2014, ending an international operation to rescue asylum seekers traveling from Libya.


Article 1 of the Convention, as amended by the 1967 Protocol, defines a refugee as this:

“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 or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it..”

Several groups have built upon the 1951 Convention to create a more objective definition. While their terms differ from those of the 1951 Convention, the Convention has significantly shaped the new, more objective definitions. They include the 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa by the Organization of African Unity (since 2002 African Union) and the 1984 Cartagena Declaration, while nonbinding, also sets out regional standards for refugees in Central America, Mexico, and Panama.

Every year, millions of persons invoke the protection of international refugee law, making it one of the most relevant international human rights mechanisms. The only international legal norms applying specifically to refugees at the global level are the 1951 UN Convention relating to the status of refugees (Geneva Convention) and the 1967 Protocol relating to the status of refugees.

The Geneva Convention and its Protocol have been ratified by almost 150 states to date (however a number of countries, such as the Gulf States and India, are not among the signatories).

The Convention was drafted under the specific conditions of the post-war period, applying only to persons who became refugees as a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 in Europe. This temporal and geographical limitation was removed by the 1967 Protocol.

Refugees are a special class of migrants who under international law deserve specific protection by their host state. According to Article 1 of the 1951 UN Convention, as modified by the 1967 Protocol, a refugee is defined as a person who ‘owing to 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 or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.’ This definition implies that several qualifying conditions apply to be considered a refugee:

  1. presence outside home country;
  2. the well-founded fear of persecution (being at risk of harm is an insufficient reason in the absence of discriminatory persecution);
  3. Incapacity to enjoy the protection of one’s own state from the persecution feared. The definition of refugees was actually intended to exclude internally displaced persons, economic migrants, victims of natural disasters, and persons fleeing violent conflict but not subject to discrimination amounting to persecution.

A refugee is not the same as an asylum-seeker. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), ‘an asylum-seeker is someone who says he or she is a refugee, but whose claim has not yet been definitively evaluated’. In the case of mass refugee movements (usually a result of conflict), the reasons for fleeing are evident and there is no capacity to conduct individual interviews, such groups are often declared prima facie refugees. Refugees - Legal Bites - Law and Beyond


In the general principle of international law, treaties in force are binding upon the parties to it and must be performed in good faith. Countries that have ratified the Refugee Convention are obliged to protect refugees that are on their territory, in accordance with its terms. There are a number of provisions that States parties to the Refugee Convention must adhere to.

Refugees shall abide by the national laws of the contracting states (Article 2)

The contracting states shall:

  • Exempt refugees from reciprocity (Article 7): That means that the granting of a right to a refugee should not be subject to the granting of similar treatment by the refugee’s country of nationality because refugees do not enjoy the protection of their home state.
  • Be able to take provisional measures against a refugee if needed in the interest of essential national security (Article 9)
  • Respect a refugee’s personal status and the rights that come with it, particular rights related to marriage (Article 12)
  • Provide free access to courts for refugees (Article 16)
  • To provide administrative assistance for refugees (Article 25)
  • Provide identity papers for refugees (Article 27)
  • To provide travel documents for refugees (Article 28)
  • Allow refugees to transfer their assets (Article 30)
  • Provide the possibility of assimilation and naturalization to refugees (Article 34)
  • Cooperate with the UNHCR (Article 35) in the exercise of its functions and to help UNHCR supervise the implementation of the provisions of the Convention.
  • Provide information on any national legislation they may adopt to ensure the application of the Convention (Article 36).
  • Settle disputes they may have with other contracting states at the International Court of Justice if not otherwise possible (Article 3)

The contracting states shall not:

  • Discriminate against refugees (Article 3)
  • Take exceptional measures against a refugee solely on account of his or her nationality (Article 8)
  • Expect refugees to pay taxes and finance charges that are different to those of nationals (Article 29)
  • Impose penalties on refugees who entered illegally in search of asylum if they present themselves (Article 31)
  • Expel refugees (Article 32)
  • Forcibly return or “refoul” refugees to the country they’ve fled from (Article 33). It is widely accepted that the prohibition of forcible return is part of a customary international law. This means that even States that are not the party to the 1951 Refugee Convention must respect the principle of non-refoulement.
  • Therefore, States are obligated under the Convention and under customary international law to respect the principle of non-refoulement. If and when this principle is threatened, UNHCR can respond by intervening with relevant authorities, and if it deems necessary, will inform the public.

Refugees shall be treated at least like nationals in relation to:

  • Freedom to practice their religion (Article 4)
  • The respect and protection of artistic rights and industrial property (Article 14)
  • Rationing (Article 20)
  • Elementary education (Article 22)
  • Public relief and assistance (Article 23)
  • Labour legislation and social security (Article 24)

Refugees shall be treated at least like other non-nationals in relation to:

  • Movable and immovable property (Article 13)
  • The right of association in unions or other associations (Article 15)
  • Wage-earning employment (Article 17)
  • Self-employment (Article 18)
  • Practice of the liberal professions (Article 19)
  • Housing (Article 21)4education higher than elementary (Article 22)
  • The right to free movement and free choice of residence within the country (Article 26)


Rohingya Crisis

The 2015 Rohingya refugee emergency alludes to the mass migration of thousands of Rohingya individuals from Myanmar (otherwise called Burma) and Bangladesh in 2015.Nearly all who fled flew out to Southeast Asian nations including Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand by shaky vessels by means of the waters of the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea. The Rohingya individuals are a Muslim minority amass dwelling in the Rakhine state, previously known as Arakan.

The Rohingya individuals are viewed as “stateless substances”, as the Myanmar government has been declining to remember them as one of the ethnic gatherings of the nation. Hence, the Rohingya individuals need legitimate assurance from the Government of Myanmar, are viewed as simple refugees from Bangladesh, and face solid threatening vibe in the nation—regularly depicted as a standout amongst the most aggrieved individuals on earth.

To get away from the critical circumstance in Myanmar, the Rohingya endeavor to unlawfully enter Southeast Asian states, asking for helpful help from potential host nations. The emergency caused by heightening viciousness in Myanmar’s Rakhine State is causing enduring on a cataclysmic scale. More than 600,000 Rohingya refugees had fled over the fringe from Myanmar to Bangladesh.

Thousands all the more supposedly stay stranded and at risk in Myanmar without the way to cross the fringe into Bangladesh. Refugees touching base in Bangladesh—generally ladies and kids—are damaged, and some have touched base with wounds caused by discharges, shrapnel, fire, and landmines. Bangladesh has more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees, and this number keeps on expanding day by day. Refugees - Rohingya - Legal Bites - Law and Beyond

Prior to this emergency started, the nation was at that point facilitating a checked populace of well more than 200,000 Rohingya from Myanmar – and likely some more. Bangladesh was additionally adapting to squeezing needs and difficulties of its own.

The fresh introductions are adding huge strain to administrations in existing refugee camps and in alternative settlements. Fundamental administrations are presently seriously surpassed, including water, wellbeing, and especially haven and sanitation. Conditions in the settlements and camps are presently so important that malady episodes are an approaching prospect. Refugees landing in Bangladesh report escaping shocking infringement of human rights and different misuse in Myanmar.

As indicated by these nerve-racking records, towns have been burned to the ground, guardians or relatives have been executed before traumatized kids, and ladies and young ladies have been assaulted or brutalized. UNHCR is as of now attempting to enlist fresh introductions and give complete security administrations. All the more extensively, the United Nations and are working intimately with the Government of Bangladesh to scale up and arrange the philanthropic reaction in order to guarantee that refugees are ensured in accordance with international standards and to give frantically required help including sustenance, protect, medicinal services and water.

In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, the philanthropic reaction to the convergence of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar is composed by the Inter-Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) which is driven by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The ISCG produces general circumstance reports and other data items that give the most a la mode data.


Refugees of the Syrian Civil War or Syrian refugees are nationals and permanent occupants of the Syrian Arab Republic, who have fled from their nation since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011 and have looked for a haven in different parts of the world. The Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries inspired protests in Syria, prompting a crackdown by the Syrian army. As Syria descended into a civil war, it became divided into a complex battle between the government, rebel groups and foreign backers.

More than 5 million individuals have fled Syria since 2011, looking for security in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and past. Millions more are dislodged inside Syria and, as war proceeds with, trust is blurring quick. Turkey hosts over 3.2 million registered Syrians. The majority of them live in urban areas, with around 260,000 accommodated in the 21 government-run refugee camps.

In Lebanon, life is an everyday battle for some Syrian refugees, who have almost no money related assets. Around 70 for every penny live underneath the poverty line. There are no formal refugee camps and, thus, more than a million enrolled Syrians are scattered all through more than 2,100 urban and provincial groups and areas, frequently imparting little essential lodgings to other refugee families in stuffed conditions.

In Jordan, more than 650,000 men, ladies, and youngsters are presently caught in exile. Roughly 80 percent of them live outside camps, while more than 130,000 have discovered asylum at the camps of Za’atari and Azraq. Many have landed with restricted intends to cover even essential needs, and the individuals who could at first depend on investment funds or support from having families are presently progressively needing assistance. 93 percent of refugees in Jordan live beneath the poverty line. Iraq has also seen a growing number of Syrians arriving, hosting more than 244,000, while in Egypt UNHCR provides protection and assistance to more than 122,000.

UNHCR provide life-saving humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees, helping the most vulnerable with cash for medicine and food, stoves and fuel for heating, insulation for tents, thermal blankets and winter clothing. In early 2017, with Syria’s war heading into its seventh year and with no end to the fighting in sight, the UNHCR joined forces with other United Nations humanitarian and development agencies to appeal for US$8 billion in vital new funding to help millions of people in Syria and across the region.

The Principle Of Non-Refoulement

The purpose of the Convention is to assure protection to refugees, as defined in the Convention, by ensuring that they are not returned to their country or sent to any other territory where they could face persecution. Article 33 puts forward what has become known as the principle of non-refoulement: ‘No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler‘) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion’.

This protection does not apply however to persons who represent a security threat to their host country (Article 33(2)). The Geneva Convention does not exclude removal of asylum-seekers to safe third countries. Asylum-seekers unlawfully present in a state can be required to seek protection in another country, but those lawfully present cannot be expelled from its territory (Article 32).

This principle has become part of other international human rights treaties either explicitly (Convention against Torture, Article 3) or implicitly through the relevant jurisprudence (European Convention on Human Rights, Article 3 and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 7) and, according to some scholars, also part of customary international law, making it universally binding.

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Syrian refugee Nawal, 3, and her sister Soundens, 4, stand at the entrance to the shelter where they live with their parents at an informal settlement near Terbol in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. The settlement is home to 55 families, who come mostly from the Homs and Raqqa areas.

While in the Refugee Convention, the scope of the non-refoulement principle is limited to refugees, and exceptions to it (for reasons of national security) are permitted, these limitations do not exist in the other three treaties. States signatories of these international treaties are thus obliged not to return to their countries persons who may face torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. They are however not entitled to any other rights provided under the Refugee Convention since they are not refugees within its scope.


Although the Convention is “legally binding” there is no monitoring body that oversees compliance. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has some supervisory responsibilities but it is not empowered to enforce the Convention, and there is no formal mechanism for complaints. The Convention specifies that complaints should be referred to the International Court of Justice, but no nation has ever done this.

An individual may lodge a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, or with the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, but no one has ever done so in regard to violations of the Convention. Nations may levy international sanctions against violators, but no nation has ever done this.

At present, the only real consequences of violation are

  1. public shaming in the press, and
  2. Verbal condemnation of the violator by the UN and by other nations. To date, these have not proven to be significant deterrents.


Thus we can conclude that, with a specific end goal to better address the scale and seriousness of the refugee emergency and give them a hope for — resettlement countries, including the United States, must expand the quantities of people and families they are welcoming. Resettlement is a critical and lifesaving option for few very powerless refugees, however, it will never be the main arrangement. For the greater part of refugees who will never have the chance to be resettled, conditions in refugee have groups must progress.

As an initial step, a refugee has countries ought to enable refugees to legally work with the goal that they may have the chance to help their families. At last, the answer for them should get through a peace procedure that makes the conditions for refugees to return home securely and deliberately. Any arranged peace assertion must incorporate a way to hold culprits of human rights infringement and atrocities responsible alongside a noteworthy national remaking exertion. Without that, there’s no point in helping them.

– Bahnidipa Roy and Arpit Oza

Content Writer @Legal Bites

One thought on “International Status of Refugees – An Overview

  1. Avatarvincehale

    No, I don’t agree….The UNHCR convention 1951 & 1967 is no longer is valid. This is just a weapon being used against western states for biological jihad. White genocide. Islam is the problem and incompatible with freedom, islam and freedom is an oxymoron & always will be. Countries need to end the refugee convention all together. Period.


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