Refugee Rights: An Introduction

Refugee rights are protected under international law, everywhere. Even before receiving official asylum status, a refugee is entitled to certain rights.

The 1951 Refugee Convention identifies: a refugee is any person who has a legitimate, genuine fear of returning to their country because their race, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion may lead them to experience persecution.  

A refugee’s rights cannot be denied based on sex, age, disability, sexuality, or any other quality.

Even if you enter a country illegally, these international rights still apply if you are a refugee. International law also prohibits governments from charging people as criminals simply because they are seeking asylum.

This identification is applicable for refugee rights before a person has acquired refugee or asylum status in the host country. Acquiring that legal status is necessary to receive full benefits from a host country. If you’ve left your country for reasons other than to escape violence;  for example, to study, reunite with family, or for employment, then you would not have a claim to these rights.

Countries have since developed their own regulations regarding the protection of refugee rights. Nosapo works most with refugees entering the the European Union and the United States.

 

refugee rights: The European Union

In the European Union, governments cannot remove the asylum seeker from the country until a decision on the application has been made. That means that once you apply for asylum, you are allowed to remain in the territory while the application is being considered. EU law allows for the detention of the asylum seeker while their visa is being processed but the facilities must provide decent living conditions:

  • Reception facilities must  provide an adequate standard of living for asylum applicants.

  • Facilities must respect human dignity, never putting the health of people at risk.  

  • Vulnerable groups (such as a child, a survivor of torture, a pregnant woman, a victim of trafficking, an older person, or a person with disabilities) should be treated with special consideration.

  • Families should not be separated.

  • Within 15 days of applying for asylum, the State must inform you of your benefits and obligations as an asylum seeker. You have the right to receive this information in a language that you understand.

  • Anyone who is detained has the right to a hearing in a court of law to determine whether the detention is legal (and to be liberated if it is not).

rights of asylum seekers in Italy:

  • You have the right to receive information on legal assistance.

  • You have the right to appeal a decision if you are not given refugee status but you believe that you qualify as a refugee under international law.

 

refugee rights: The United States

Defensive asylum processes: the person must prove he or she is a refugee in order to avoid deportation. When refugees present themselves to a U.S. official at a point of entry or near the border, they are subject to expedited removal. That means that certain individuals may be deported immediately. Asylum seekers must tell the official that they are afraid of persecution or torture in their country of origin. At this point, they are entitled to go through the credible fear and reasonable fear screening processes to avoid deportation:

  • If the official determines that the asylum seeker has a credible fear, it means that he or she has a significant possibility of receiving eligibility for protection. The individual will start the defensive asylum process in immigration court. If the official decides that the person does not have credible fear, the deportation process will begin. The asylum seeker has the right to make one last appeal to an immigration judge at this point.

  • The individual must demonstrate that there is a “reasonable possibility” of being tortured or persecuted on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group upon return to his/her country. The asylum seeker has the right to try to demonstrate eligibility for this status, which does not lead to permanent residence, but if successful would delay their removal from the country.

Resources for asylum seekers in the USA

Refugees may be detained or allowed to stay in the country while their asylum application is pending, depending on the presiding court. In all cases, refugees must make their application within one year of entering to be eligible.

 

Refugee rights: International Law

The 1954 Refugee Convention underscores the rights of refugees, no matter where they may be in the world. These laws can be appealed to in any country. A short-list of those rights follows:

  • The right to remain in the country and not be deported, with very few exceptions (Article 32).

    • A refugee may only be expelled if they represent a risk to national security or the public order.

    • Unless there is an immediate threat to national security, the refugee has the right to present evidence of his/her innocence to the appropriate authority.

    • If the State determines that it is necessary to remove the refugee, it must allow sufficient time for the refugee to seek legal admission to another country.

  • The right not to be punished for illegally entering the territory in order to apply for asylum (Article 31)

    • Refugees should present themselves to the authorities immediately upon arrival and explain the reasons for their entrance.

Discrimination is unequal or unfair treatment. Under international law, a host country cannot discriminate against your rights simply because you are a refugee or any other reason:

  • The right to work (Articles 17 to 19);

    • The right to work is applies when the refugee has spent more time in the country. The time frame required will vary depending on the laws of that country.

  • The right to public education (Article 22)

    • Refugees have the same right to an elementary education as a national.

    • Refugees are protected from discrimination in access to studies, the recognition of foreign diplomas/certificates, scholarships, and admission fees.

  • The right to public relief and assistance (Article 23) under the same conditions as nationals.

  • The right to practice their religion freely (Article 4);

  • The right to access the country’s courts of law (Article 16)

  • The right to move freely within the territory (Article 26)

    • A refugee will have the same rights as a national when choosing a place to live.

  • The right to housing (Article 21)

    • A refugee must receive equal treatment as nationals in housing agreements.

  • The right to be issued identity and travel documents (Articles 27 and 28).

    • When a refugee is staying lawfully in the territory and does not have identification, the State should issue the necessary travel documents so the refugee can legally travel outside the country.