Rights of Refugees or Asylum-Seekers

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 Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees rules that:

“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.”

It was signed by more than 140 countries.[1]

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 listing, The States Parties to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol, was available in April 2020 at https://www.unhcr.org/protection/basic/3b73b0d63/states-parties-1951-convention-its-1967-protocol.html.

This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/5476a.htm