This page provides information on the definitions of refugee, asylum seeker and UNHCR. This is followed by useful resources for applying for asylum or refugee status. At the end of the page, you will find a list of organisations and individuals, that provide free legal assistance and support refugees in the listed countries.
A refugee is an individual who has been forced to flee his or her country because of lack of protection. They have good reason to believe that they are persecuted due to their race, nationality, religion (religious beliefs and actions), political beliefs or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so.
“Refugee status” is declarative. This means that you are a refugee as soon as you fulfill the criteria set forth in the above definition. Recognition of refugee status does not make you a refugee, it merely recognises (for the hosting state) an already existing situation.
Legal Definition of Refugee
According to Article 1 A (2) of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, the definition of a refugee is reflected in the following paragraph: ‘[an individual that] 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; 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.’
At the international level, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) deals with the legal status of a refugee. This means, if you are a refugee and UNHCR is responsible to process asylum applications (this is called Refugee Status Determination) in the country where you seeked protection, you must satisfy the definition provided above in the 1951 Refugee Convention.
If you are in a country that has a national refugee law and in which a national authority and not UNHCR is dealing with applications of refugees, the legal definition of a refugee might be broader or narrower.
Refugees have three options:
1) Repatriation (being sent back) to the country they fled from
2) Resettlement in a different country
3) Integration into the host country they fled to
If you would like to see an explanation of what the 1951 Convention is and how it helps refugees, please see here.
An asylum seeker is an individual who is formally seeking asylum (through an application or registration at a national authority or UNHCR) in a country that is not their own, exercising the right to be recognized as a refugee and receive legal protection and material assistance. This means they might fulfill the definition of refugee, and demonstrate that their fear of persecution in their home country is well-founded. An individual is an asylum seeker for the duration of the asylum process, until a decision has been taken by the hosting state or UNHCR.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is a United Nations agency responsible for the protection of refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people, and for supporting their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country.
If you are a refugee and you need to contact an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), please check this page for a list of available countries. A number of UNHCR operations can be contacted through Facebook Messenger. Go to Facebook and type in ‘UNHCR’ and the name of the country you may be assisting a refugee in, for example type ‘UNHCR Kenya’.
RESOURCES FOR APPLYING FOR ASYLUM OR REFUGEE STATUS
Self Help Kits
If you are a refugee who is applying for asylum through UNHCR, we have prepared Self Help Kits to aid you in the process of writing your statement for your Refugee Status Determination (RSD) Interview. You can access them in the following languages:
Useful Resources for applying for asylum or refugee status
If you are an asylum seeker with no legal representation in the USA, you can check the following options:
- The Pro se Asylum Manual is a guide to handling asylum cases on your own in the US, provided by UNHCR.
- The Stanford Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic has created a Pro Se Asylum Guide, available in English and Spanish. The guide aims to assist those who cannot afford to hire a private attorney and are unable to obtain assistance from non-profits. It is a usable and interactive resource, with simple language, clear examples, and charts for individuals to fill out and organize the information in their own cases. In addition, sample forms of cover letters and applications are also included.
- Timeless advice for refugees in expediting their asylum case can be found here and here.
If you are applying for asylum in the United Kingdom, at this link you can find useful information and explanation concerning the application process.
Organisations and individuals providing free legal aid and assistance by country
We maintain a list of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or not-for-profit organisations (and, in rare cases, individual lawyers) who offer pro bono legal aid and/or other services related to the needs of refugees. Some countries have no legal aid for refugees but do have NGOs that provide other services that can be valuable for refugees and might lead to legal aid.
These listings have been provided by each organisation, only occasionally obtained from a website. Every effort is made to list only genuine organizations and to ensure accuracy, but we cannot assume responsibility for errors or quality of services. Please contact us to correct or suggest listings.
Those who experience violations of the Nairobi Code in the services provided by an organisation, or otherwise experience serious problems with its services as they are described in the entry provided on this website, are encouraged to write to Alice Johnson (email@example.com) or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are always looking to expand the resources on our platform. If you know about relevant resources, or you are aware of organisations and individuals to include in our directories, please get in touch.
Last updated November 2022