Asylum Seeker

  1. definition
  2. examples and/or illustrations
  3. other useful sources
  4. bibliography


Oxford Dictionary defines asylum seeker as a person who has left their home country as a political refugee and is seeking asylum in another (The Oxford Online Dictionaries. (2012). Oxford University Press. Moreover, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization defines asylum seekers as people who move across borders in search of protection but who may not fulfill the strict criteria laid down by the 1951 Convention. Asylum seekers can become refugees if the local immigration or refugee authority deems them as fitting the international definition of refugee. (http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/international-migration/glossary/asylum-seeker/)

UNHCR defines asylum-seekers as “individuals seeking international protection whose claim has not yet been finally decided on by the country in which he or she has submitted it”. Accordingly, not every asylum-seeker will ultimately be recognized as arefugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum-seeker. (http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c137.html)

Similarly, according United Nations Association inCanada, asylum is the protection offered to someone fleeing persecution in another country whereas an asylum-seeker is a person who has crossed an international border and applies for protection as a refugee in another country. (http://unac.org/) Many countries, includingCanada, have special procedures to decide whether an asylum-seeker is a refugee to whom protection should be granted. InCanada, asylum- seekers are known as refugee claimants. Finally, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development defines it asylum seekers as “persons who file an application for asylum in a country other than their own. They remain in the status of asylum-seeker until their application is considered and adjudicated”. )https://stats.oecd.org/glossary/detail.asp?ID=135)


Examples and/or Illustrations

At the beginning of 2011, there were 983,000 asylum-seekers of concern to the UN refugee agency. UNHCR advocates for governments to adopt a fair system to determine whether an individual asylum-seeker is a refugee. Weaver and Burns point out the critical legal distinctions between refugees and asylum seekers. Refugees are identified by the UNHCR and are subsequently under the protection of the UNHCR. On the other hand, asylum seekers appeal directly to a country to provide them with protection from persecution. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights established that everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. Canadian Council for Refugees underline the fact thatCanada has legal obligations towards refugees inCanada under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the Convention against Torture. The Supreme Court of Canada has also confirmed that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights of asylum seekers to fundamental justice.

“Homelessness hunger, and fear are not confined to warring and unstable regions in the third world but are increasingly faced by asylum seekers arriving to deterrent asylum policies in the West” (Kissoon, 2010 (refer to Bibliography section for full citation). For instance, it could be argued that Canada does not provide enough support for asylum seekers as they are left to fend for themselves on arrival and during determination of their claim. According to Kissoon (2010), a national system of support for asylum seekers, similar to the UK’s but based on choice and equality, could provide alternative to the vulnerable conditions suffered by asylum seekers upon arrival in Canada. As expressed by Jacobsen(2012), the legal status of asylum seekers is more precarious than that of recognized refugees as their lives are characterized by the absence of humanitarian assistance and antagonistic host governments whose policies often include denying asylum seekers the right to work. (Refer to Bibliography section for full citation). The MV Sun Sea incident of 2010 provides a significant illustration of some of the barriers asylum seekers confront. Even though evidence suggested otherwise, the asylum seekers from Sri Lanka were assumed to be associated with Tamil Tigers which led to the general belief that they may be linked with terrorism. This was a significant event as the government took a big stance by detaining every passenger from the boat and challenged their claims. According to World Refugee Survey (2007), only small number of minority refugees and asylum seekers make claims in the world’s richest countries, including Canada. In 2006, “Tanzania alone hosted more refugees and asylum seekers than Canada, France, Australia, USA, Germany, Spain and Japan combined.”


Other Useful Sources

Asylum-Seekers. (n.d.). UNHCR  News. Retrieved February 26, 2014, from http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c137.html

Hamlin, R. (2012). International Law and Administrative Insulation: A Comparison of Refugee Status Determination Regimes in the United States, Canada, and Australia. Law & Social Inquiry, 37(4), 933-968.

MacIntosh, C. (2012). Insecure refugees: The Narrowing of Asylum-Seeker Rights to Freedom of Movement and Claims Determination post 9/11 in Canada. Review of Constitutional Studies, 16(2), 181-209.

Raveendran, M. (2012). Plight of the Boat People: How to Determine State Obligations to Asylum Seekers. Notre Dame Law Review , 87(3), 11277-1312.

Case Law

Singh v. Minister of Employment and Immigration, [1985] 1 S.C.R. 177

 In this case, Singh accompanied by six other Sikh foreign nationals claimed Convention refugee status under the Immigration Act as they feared persecution back home. They were denied status by the Minister of Employment and Immigration. The foreign nationals challenged the adjudication procedures on the basis that it violated section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and freedoms. The Supreme Court of Canada found that the seven foreign nationals were protected by the Charter and their rights had thus been violated. The Court ruled that refugee claimants in Canada deserve the same standard of justice under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as Canadian citizens, and are entitled to a fair hearing. This decision paved the way for the creation of the Immigration and Refugee Board in 1989 (United Nations Association inCanada).

Baker v.  Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), [1999] 2 S.C.R. 817

This case involved a Jamaican woman who had been discovered as illegally living inCanadafor 11 years and gave birth to four children during this time. She was ordered to be deported. Federal court along with the Federal Court of Appeal rejected the application but the Supreme Court of Canada reversed these decisions. It held that procedural fairness required the decision-maker to consider human rights of Baker’s children and that decisions should follow values that are in international human rights law.

Suresh v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), [2002] 1 S.C.R. 3, 2002 SCC 1

This case involved a convention refugee fromSri Lankawho had been given a deportation order for allegedly posing security risks without any procedural fairness provided to him. The judgment was soon after the 9/11 events and the court concluded that individuals could be deported under exceptional circumstances.

Other Related Terms

  • Refugee
  • Internal Displacement
  • Asylum
  • Displaced Persons



Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 28 July 1951, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 189, p. 137, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3be01b964.html [accessed 27 February 2014]

Edwards, A. (2005). Human Rights, Refugees, and The Right ‘To Enjoy’ Asylum. International Journal of Refugee Law, 17(2), 293-330.

Heckman, G. P. (2003). Securing Procedural Safeguards for Asylum Seekers in Canadian Law: An Expanding Role for International Human Rights Law?. International Journal of Refugee Law, 15(2), 212-253.

Jacobsen, K. (2006). Refugees And Asylum Seekers In Urban Areas: A Livelihoods Perspective. Journal of Refugee Studies, 19(3), 273-286.

Kissoon, P. (2010). From Persecution to Destitution: A Snapshot of Asylum Seekers’ Housing and Settlement Experiences in Canadaand the United Kingdom.Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, 8(1), 4-31.

Weaver, H. N., & Burns, B. J. (2001). ‘I Shout with Fear at Night’: Understanding the Traumatic Experiences of Refugees and Asylum Seekers. Journal of Social Work, 1(2), 147-164.