The United Nations (UN) set forth a protocol in 1951 on how nations should deal with refugees and what rights they have.

The "Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees" has been the international standard for dealing with displaced people since then.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 declares that individuals have a right to seek asylum if they are being persecuted in other countries.  The "Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees"  of 1951 is more specific, by describing refugees of having a "well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group,"

The Convention is to be applied to all refugees without any discrimination toward race, religion or country of origin. Refugees also cannot be penalized for entering a country illegally. Last but not least, a country cannot not return a refugee against their will to the country of origin where they are being persecuted.

The United Nations began discussing refugees in the wake of World War II, which caused high migration within Europe. The original 1951 Convention was restricted to only those who became refugees before 1951 and was interpreted to mean people who were displaced as a result of World War II.  The 1967 "Protocol on the Status of Refugees" removed the geographic and time limits in the 1951 convention to include refugees from all over the world. Nowadays, the conflicts in the Middle East and in other regions are making international organizations and government reevaluate their responsibilities.

What's the difference between a refugee and an internally displaced person (IDP)?

A refugee has fled their country - they've crossed an international border. An internally displaced person is an individual who has been forced to moved from one part of a country to another part of the same country due to persecution. It is estimated there were 40.8 million IDPs worldwide in 2015.

One such recent example is in Iraq, where the terrorist organization "Islamic State" took over the Iraqi city of Mosul, forcing people to flee from the city to Northern Iraq.

What's the difference between a refugee and an economic migrant?

While refugees have fear of persecution in their home countries as defined by the 1951 convention, economic migrants have chosen to leave their countries rather due to dire economic circumstances, such as high unemployment, high inflation etc.  The economic migrants hope to go to a country where there is a better job market and better living standards. They  do not fit the definition of being "persecuted" as stated by the 1951 convention. A migrant continues to enjoy the protection of the government of his or her homeland.

For the full text of the 1951 Convention click here.

Author: Wesley Dockery


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