Who Becomes a Refugee?

Introduction to Refugee

People leave their home countries for many reasons. Sometimes they are fleeing poverty, or they hope to find a better life in another place. People who migrate for economic reasons, however, are not considered refugees. Yet economic migrants may also have political reasons for leaving their homeland. Many countries with weak economies also have oppressive governments. People who seek asylum because the political situation endangers their lives usually qualify as refugees.

Generally, people who migrate voluntarily are not considered refugees. At the same time not everyone who is “forced” to migrate is considered a refugee. People who flee persecution or violence but do not enter another country are considered “internal displaced persons” rather than refugees. Others not classified as refugees are people who are forced to leave their homes because of floods, volcanic eruptions, earthquake, drought, and other natural disasters.

In Africa civil wars that followed the end of colonial rule have been a frequent source of refugees. In Europe certain national boundaries drawn after World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945) disregarded the ethnic composition of the territories, which made nation-building difficult and often violent. Not all the nations stayed together. Yugoslavia, for example, broke apart during the 1990s, leading to ethnic conflict and civil war, which created many refugees (see Yugoslav Wars of Succession). In Asia many refugees were created as a result of the Korean War (1950-1953), the Vietnam War (1959-1975), and wars in Afghanistan from 1979 into the 1990s. In the Middle East the events most responsible for displacing people include the partition of Palestine in 1948, the Kurdish conflict (see Kurds) in Turkey and Iraq from the 1980s on, and the U.S.-Iraq War (2003- )” (1)

Refugee in Election Law

According to the 1951 UN Geneva Convention, a refugee is ‘a person who, owing to a 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 /her nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of this country’. Mass refugee situations may lead to large scale out-of-country voting operations.

Refugee status and other forms of protection

As published by the UNHCR in relation to Refugee status and other forms of protection: Problems may sometimes arise where a victim of trafficking potentially qualifies for both refugee protection and some other form of temporary or permanent protection, for example a trafficking visa. The tension between the law enforcement goals of prosecuting perpetrators and the humanitarian aims of victim protection may be most apparent where the victim first comes into contact with law enforcement via a trafficking investigation. Within the United States legal structure, law enforcement may want to delay the filing of the T visa application where essential information to the prosecution’s case may be subpoenaed by defense counsel, compromising the case.221 The victim may still receive a grant of continued presence from law enforcement, entitling her to social, health and employment benefits, but she may not be able to apply for subsidiary protection for family members at risk without filing a T visa application.222

There is also a risk that a victim might remain uninformed about her options to apply for both asylum and visa protections when she enters the system in relation to a criminal investigation. Furthermore, issues may arise with filing deadlines for the application for asylum. In the United States, there is a statutory exception to the one year filing deadline where the applicant has maintained “Temporary Protected Status” until a “reasonable period before the filing of the asylum application.”223 It is unclear under what circumstances this exception would apply. In addition, the applicant bears the burden of proving that the exception is reasonable under the circumstances.224 This type of exception is valuable in ensuring that a victim is not denied necessary asylum protection due to her assistance in prosecutory matters but it may only be applicable in certain situations.

Presumably, the best decision for a victim is to apply for all available options for protection to increase her chances of receiving effective protection, although the possibility of multiple, simultaneous applications may vary by jurisdiction. There are benefits and detriments associated with both temporary visa protection and asylum protection. As indicated in the previous analysis, one of the major problems with visa protection is the temporary nature of the protection. While some temporary visa frameworks provide the option of applying for permanent residence status at a later point, the potential that a victim will receive time-limited protection must be considered. Refugee status, on the other hand, is focused on providing sustainable solutions to threats of persecution. This means that the protection will not cease unless the threat of persecution has ceased to exist.225

Obtaining refugee status may also mean that a victim is able to apply for permanent status sooner, meaning she can begin working to rebuild her life without fear of being forced to relocate. Under the United States asylum legal framework, an individual may qualify for permanent residence status after one year,226 while under the T visa scheme, a victim is not entitled to apply for permanent status until three years following the grant of the visa, and only if the victim has complied with law enforcement requests for assistance, would “suffer extreme hardship” if removed from the United States or was under 18 years old at the time of victimization.227 Finally, a grant of asylum protection is not dependant on a victim’s willingness to cooperate with law enforcement efforts, only on the need for protection.

However, the previous analysis illustrates the reluctance of States to recognize women victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation as a category within the definition of refugee. Therefore, the likelihood of obtaining asylum protection for these women is greatly diminished. The pros and cons of refugee protection and temporary visa structures indicate the necessity of making certain that victims of trafficking are adequately apprised of all available options to ensure appropriate respect for their rights.

Asylum, Refugee, and Migrant Protection Issues

In relation to the international law practice and asylum, refugee, and migrant protection issues in this world legal Encyclopedia, please see the following section:

Nationality, Citizenship, Immigration

About this subject:


Note: there is detailed information and resources under these topics during the year 2013, covered by this entry on asylum, refugee, and migrant protection issues in this law Encyclopedia.


Embracing mainstream international law, this section on refugee(s) explores the context, history and effect of the area of the law covered here.


See Also

  • Migration
  • Internal Migration
  • Immigration Law


Further Reading

  • The entry “refugee(s)” in the Parry and Grant Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law (currently, the Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law, 2009), Oxford University Press


See Also

  • Election Law
  • Electoral Laws
  • Electoral Legislation


Notes and References

Guide to Refugee

Hierarchical Display of Refugee

al Relations
> International security > International issue
Social Questions > Migration > Migration > Forced migration
Politics > Politics and public safety > Public safety > Political violence > Political refugee
International Relations > Cooperation policy > Humanitarian aid > Aid to refugees
International Organisations > United Nations > UN programmes and funds > UNHCR
Social Questions > Migration > Migration > Migration policy > Resettlement of persons


Concept of Refugee

See the dictionary definition of Refugee.

Characteristics of Refugee

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Translation of Refugee

Thesaurus of Refugee

International Relations > International security > International issue > Refugee
Social Questions > Migration > Migration > Forced migration > Refugee
Politics > Politics and public safety > Public safety > Political violence > Political refugee > Refugee
International Relations > Cooperation policy > Humanitarian aid > Aid to refugees > Refugee
International Organisations > United Nations > UN programmes and funds > UNHCR > Refugee
Social Questions > Migration > Migration > Migration policy > Resettlement of persons > Refugee

See also