What can you find on this page:
- Definitions of refugee, asylum seeker, internally displaced and stateless person, and UNHCR
- Useful resources for applying for asylum or refugee status, including our Self-Help Kits to prepare for the asylum process
- Our Pro Bono Directory, which is a list of organisations and individuals that provide free legal assistance and support to refugees in the listed countries
- Our Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Country list, a database that contains country-specific information and support for the LGBTQI+ refugee community
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. To receive protection, you might fulfill the definition of refugee (see ‘Who is a refugee?’ section), and demonstrate that your fear of persecution in your home country is well-founded. You will be considered an asylum seeker for the duration of the asylum process, until a decision has been taken by the hosting state or UNHCR.
Like a refugee, an internally displaced person (IDP) is an individual who has been forced to flee their home or place of residence as a result of threat to their lives and freedoms. Unlike a refugee, however, an IDP has not crossed a state border to seek safety. Due to this difference, an IDP does not fall under the 1951 Refugee Convention’s definition of a refugee, and therefore is not protected under international refugee law.
During the 1990s, UNHCR began collecting data on IDPs and the need for international standards for protecting IDPs became apparent. Thus, in 1998, the UN adopted the ‘Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement’, which sets 30 principles for the protection of IDPs, outlining their rights and governments’ responsibilities. The Principles define IDPs as:
“Persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border.”
Although the Principles do not constitute a legally binding framework, they are widely recognised as a normative and regulatory standard. If you are in need of assistance due to internal displacement, you can find a list of organisations and individuals that provide free legal assistance on our Pro Bono Directory and look for contacts in a specific country.
If you would like to learn more about the internal displacement, you can visit the following websites: Researching Internal Displacement, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and Global Protection Cluster.
A stateless person is defined by the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless People as “a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law”. This means that a stateless person do not have the nationality of any country. This broad definition of statelessness under international law covers a wide range of circumstances, many of which may overlap with the criteria of being considered a refugee. Like refugees with a nationality, you may be a stateless refugee and then being granted a refugee status.
If you are stateless and need assistance, on this website you will find country specific information and legal advice from UNHCR.
If you would like to learn more about statelessness, visit our Special Issue on Statelessness.
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
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 find more information on our Self-Help Kits page, and access our self-help kits here in the following languages:
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.
On this page, you will find information and resources to assist you with family reunification matters. Some of the resources are country specific (especially for the EU, UK and US).
PRO BONO DIRECTORY
Organisations and individuals providing free legal aid and assistance by country
We maintain a list of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), not-for-profit organisations, and, in some cases, individual lawyers, who offer free legal aid and/or other services related to the needs of refugees. For some countries, either we have not been able to list any organisations, or we provide only organisations that offer other types of assistance to refugees and might potentially lead to legal aid.
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 (Chair of the Board of Trustees) or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
SEXUAL ORIENTATION AND GENDER IDENTITY (SOGI) DATABASE
Our database contains country-specific information and support for the LGBTQI+ refugee community. On every country page, you can find legal information, case law, evidence of public attitudes, a list of NGOs that assist or advocate on LGBTQI+ issues, and contact details of LGBTQI+ Experts.
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 January 2023