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Location : Education : Refugees : Glossary

Glossary of terms related to the experiences of refugees

Taken from Refugees and Forcibly Displaced People by Mark Raper SJ and Amaya Valcarcel, 2000.

Asylum: the granting, by a State, of protection in its territory to a person/persons from another State who is/are fleeing persecution or serious danger. A person who is granted asylum is a refugee. Asylum encompasses a variety of elements, including non-refoulement, permission to remain on the territory of the asylum country, and humane standards of treatment.

Asylum seekers: those individuals who formally request permission to live in another State because they (and often their families) have a 'well founded fear of persecution' in their country of origin. This distinguishes them from migrants in general.

Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees: a Convention that establishes the most widely applicable framework for the protection of refugee. The convention was adopted in July 1951 and entered force in April 1954. Article 1 of the 1951 Convention limits its scope to 'events occurring before 1 January 1951'. This restriction is removed by the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. To date, there are 139 States who are parties to the 1951 and/or 1967 Protocol.

Convention refugees: persons recognised as refugees by States under the criteria in Article 1A of the 1951 Convention, and entitled to the enjoyment of a variety of rights under the Convention.

Country of first asylum: a country in which an asylum seeker has been granted international protection as an asylum seeker or a refugee.

Customary international law: laws that derive their authority from the constant and consistant practice of States, rather than from formal expression in a treaty or legal text.

Durable solutions: any means by which the situation of refugees can be satisfactorily and permanently resolved to enable them to live normal lives. UNHCR traditionally pursues the durable solutions of voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement.

Local integration: a durable solution to the problem of refugees, which involves their permanent settlement in a country of first asylum.

Non-refoulement: a core principle of refugee law that prohibits States from returning refugees in any manner whatsoever to countries or territories in which their lives or freedom may be threatened. The principle of non-refoulement is a part of customary international law and is therefore binding on all States, whether or not they are parties to the 1951 Convention.

Persecution: generally refers to any severe violation of human rights. In the refugee context, 'persecution' refers to any act by which fundamental rights are severely violated for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group.

Refoulement: the removal of a person to a territory where she/he would face persecution. Refoulement constitutes a violation of the principle of non-refoulement, and is therefore a breach of refugee law and of customary international law.

Refugee law: the body of customary law, international law and various international, regional and national instruments that establish standards for refugee protection. The cornerstone of refugee law is the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

Resettlement: the transfer of refugees from the country in which they have sought refuge to another State that has agreed to admit them. The refugees will usually be granted asylum or some other form of long-term resident rights and, in many cases, will have the opportunity to become naturalised citizens. For this reason, resettlement is a durable solution as well as a tool for the protection of refugees.

Resettlement country: a country that offers opportunities for the permanent resettlement of refugees.

Safe third country: a country in which an asylum seeker could have found protection as a refugee, and in which he/she has been physically present prior to arriving in the country in which he/she is applying for asylum.

Unaccompanied minors: persons below the legal age of majoriy who are not in the company of parents, guardians or primary care-givers.

Voluntary repatriation: return to the country of origin based on the refugees' free and informed decision. Voluntary repatriation may be organised (ie. when it takes place under the auspices of the converned governments and UNHCR) or spontaneouss (ie. the refugees return by their own means with UNHCR and governments having little or no direct involvement).


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