Rights of Refugees or Asylum-Seekers

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/5476.htm)

Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Appendix 1) states that:

“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

The subsequent Geneva Convention of 28 July 1951,[1] as extended in 1967, defined refugees as people who fear persecution in their countries of origin; it assigned rights to them in the destination country.  It was signed by more than 140 countries.

The Convention was not a legal obligation on any one country to accept refugees, but it referred to a need for international co-operation in settling them and provided an agreed mechanism for doing so.  It also guaranteed that the refugees would not be sent back to their countries of origin if their reasons for fleeing were found to be genuine.

The signatories to the Convention have thus collectively committed themselves to a legally-binding framework for taking refugees, and have explicitly recognised the moral obligation to do so, without placing a legal obligation on the refugee’s destination of choice.  The final decision to accept them is moral and political.


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[1] The Geneva Convention of 28 July 1951, entitled the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, the Protocol of 31 January 1967, and UN Resolution 2198 were published in a single document that was available in May 2018 at http://www.unhcr.org/protect/PROTECTION/3b66c2aa10.pdf.  This contains the following definition:

“A refugee, according to the Convention, is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”

The 142 countries who have signed this convention were listed by the United Nations High Commission forRefugees (UNHCR) in a document available in May 2018 at http://www.unhcr.org/protection/basic/3b73b0d63/states-parties-1951-convention-its-1967-protocol.html.