Definitions on this page were taken from the World Refugee Council’s report A Call to Action: Transforming the Global Refugee System. It is a compelling and insightful look into the current state of affairs as of the beginning of 2019 and offers recommendations to alleviate the current crisis.


The 1951 Convention, as “amended” by the 1967 Protocol, defines a refugee as “a person who, owing to wellfounded 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 nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside of the country of his habitual residence…, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it” (UNHCR 2010, art. 1). The 1969 Organisation of African Unity Convention expands the definition of refugee to include not only those fleeing persecution but also those who flee their homelands “owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order” (UNHCR 1969, art. 1(2)). Similarly, the Cartagena Declaration (UNHCR 1984) and the European Union’s Subsidiary Protection (European Union 2011) expand international protection to a broader set of beneficiaries.

Asylum Seekers

Asylum seekers are people seeking sanctuary in a country other than their own and awaiting a decision about their status (UNHCR 2017).

Internally Displayed Persons

Internally displaced persons are defined in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement as “persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border” (United Nations Economic and Social Council 1998).


To get more definitions and facts on immigration, read our Immigration Fact Sheet

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