A refugee is a person who is outside his or her country of origin and has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group, and cannot, or does not want, to seek his own country's protection.
The generally applicable definition of a refugee is given by the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees adopted in Geneva. The Convention is the universal international instrument for the protection of refugees. Thus, in order for a person to be considered a refugee, he must prove that he meets the definition of a refugee under the Convention. The word 'refugee' is therefore a concept of public international law and refers to a person in a specific situation to whom international law confers special protective status.
After the second World War, states realised that they must create a mechanism to provide for those who may become refugees in the future. This resulted in the creation of the 1951 Convention. In general, every person is protected by the state to which he or she resides and is a national. A refugee, however, cannot seek protection of his or her state because the state itself carries out the persecution, or is unable to stop the persecutor, or because the country is at war. When an individual flees from persecution to another state, he falls outside the protection of his own state, and without the Convention, there would be no legal relationship under which the foreign state is obliged to protect the fleeing individual. The Convention lists out the fundamental rights of refugees.
The fundamental rights of a refugee include:
- Right to recognition as a refugee (Right to asylum): Recognition as a refugee is a declaratory act, that is, a person does not become a refugee through recognition, but automatically by meeting the terms of the Convention. States merely have to recognise that fact (that the person met the terms of the Convention). Once such recognition is given, the person would then have the right to be recognised as a refugee (also known as right to asylum).
- The right to access to asylum procedure to determine whether a person is a refugee
- Principle against penalty for unlawful crossing of the border: see Article 31 of the Convention
- Principle of non-refoulement: see Article 33 of the Convention and Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights; a refugee is protected against being obliged to return to risk of persecution.
- Right to family reunification: This right only applies to the closest relatives, i.e. parents (in the case of child refugees) and spouses. International law recognises that a refugee has the right to gain the same status as his immediate family and to be able to live with them peacefully and safely in the foreign country.
Slovakia and refugees
The rights and obligations of refugees in Slovakia, the asylum procedure and the integration of refugees are regulated by Act No. 480/2002 Z.z. on Asylum and on Amendments to Certain Acts (zákon č. 480/2002 Z.z. o azyle a o zmene a doplnení niektorých zákonov).
Watch the video below on how to determine whether a refugee is a dangerous person:
Help the refugees around the world:
No one wants to be a refugee. A situation where one becomes a refugee is difficult for all parties involved: the person whose life, health and freedom is threatened, the states trying to help the refugees, and of course, also for the countries from which refugees flee due to war and violence.
The most important thing is to ensure the refugees' security and basic human dignity. In other words, they must have shelter, water, food, clothing and access to health care.
However, when a crisis or war is prolonged, the question arises as to how these people will continue their lives. Today, most refugees live with the locals in normal neighborhoods rather than in refugee camps. This type of community integration is also a strategy to provide sustainable aid for the refugees.
Around the world, more and more refugees remain in a state of exile for many years, which causes serious social, personal and financial problems. The UNHCR defines a protracted refugee situation as a situation where at least 25,000 refugees from the same nationality remain 5 consecutive years or more in a state of exile in a given asylum country. By the end of 2015, 41% of refugees scattered across 27 countries were in such a situation. Some of them have been living in this situation for more than 20 years. The largest group is the Afghan refugees, who have been living in Iran and Pakistan for more than 30 years as refugees, without the possibility of becoming a host country and without the possibility of returning to safety.
Solution for refugees:
- Family reunification: Every refugee has the basic right to unite with his or her closest family members. Depending on the situation, this may take montsh or years, so it is important for countries to simplify this process as much as possible.
- Local integration: Most refugees flee to countries closest to the conflict zone. The goal is to involve them as much as possible in the country of asylum to become a full-fledged member of that society. This can be done by learning the language, getting employed or going to school. According to UNHCR, 1.1 million refugees have become citizens of their country of asylum in the last 10 years.
- Voluntary return: Refugees may return back to their countries if improved conditions permit them to do so. They are often supported by various organisations, especially in relation to the initial difficulties of rebuilding a life in their home countries.
Resettlement is a process of helping refugees move from their country of first asylum to a third country to provide them a new home. Resettlement is a tool used by states since the second World War to relieve the burden of states to which most refugees enter, for example, because they are in immediate proximity to a war zone. States generally work alongside UNHCR to select refugee candidates for resettlement and recommend their admission to a particular country. The nominated refugee would then go through an interview process with the new host country and, as a result, may be selected for resettlement in that country.
According to UNHCR estimates, around 10% of refugees around the world are in need of resettlement. Most places for resettlement are offered by the United States, Canada, Australia, and countries like Sweden.
In 2017, UNHCR estimated that resettlement will be required for 1,191,000 people, up to 40% of them being Syrian refugees. In 2015, the most common reasons for resettlement included the need for protection, suffering of trauma and violence, the lack of lasting solutions in the country of first asylum, or a particular risk for female refugees. Overall, in 2015, 81,893 people successfully resettled with the help of UNHCR, mainly from Myanmar, Syria and the Democratic Congo Republic. These people sought first asylum in Malaysia, Turkey and Lebanon, and were resettled to the United States, Canada and Australia.
More aout refugees, migration and asylum can be found in our eLearning.
Read more about refugees in the series "Refugees and Migration: Impressions and Concepts" prepared by Human Rights League Director Zuzana Števulová in cooperation with Euractiv.sk.
You can also download a short description of the asylum procedure in Slovakia.
The Human Rights League is currently implementing the "Legal Asylum Advisory" project, the purpose of which is to provide free and professional legal assistance to asylum seekers. The project runs from 04.11.2016 to 31.10.2019 and is co-funded by the European Union from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, and the Internal Affairs Fund. You can read more about it under "Current Projects".