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



(n.) One who flees to a shelter, or place of safety.

(n.) Especially, one who, in times of persecution or political commotion, flees to a foreign power or country for safety; as, the French refugees who left France after the revocation of the edict of Nantes.

UNHCR Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees states the term ‘refugee’ applies to any person who:

Article 1: Definition of the term “Refugee”

Article 1A(1):

Has been considered a refugee under the Arrangements of 12 May 1926 and 30 June 1928 or under the Conventions of 28 October 1933 and 10 February 1938, the Protocol of 14 September 1939 or the Constitution of the International Refugee Organization; Decisions of non-eligibility taken by the International Refugee Organization during the period of its activities shall not prevent the status of refugee being accorded to persons who fulfil the conditions of paragraph 2 of this section;

Article 1A(2):

As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and 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 the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. In the case of a person who has more than one nationality, the term “the country of his nationality” shall mean each of the countries of which he is a national, and a person shall not be deemed to be lacking the protection of the country of his nationality if, without any valid reason based on well-founded fear, he has not availed himself of the protection of one of the countries of which he is a national.

For a copy of the complete 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol, visit: http://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10.html


Examples and/or Illustrations

“The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees is the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of states. It was legally enacted on 22 April 1954. The 1967 Protocol removed geographical and temporal restrictions from the Convention” (UNHCR 2011).

The number of UNHCR registered global refugees reached a 15-year high in 2011, 43.7 million people (The Guardian, 2011). The number of people classified as refugees, as opposed to IDPs, stateless persons, returnees, and asylum claimants is estimated at 10-12 million.

Afghanistan is the country that has the most refugees under UNHCR responsibility in the world, totally approximately three million. The UNHCR number of refugees does not account for the total number of Palestinian refugees. The UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, estimated at more than 5 million. (for more, visit http://www.unrwa.org).


Other Useful Sources

Goodwin-Gill, Guy. (1996) “The Refugee in International Law” 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hathaway, James. (1991) “The Law of Refugee Status” Butterworths Toronto/Vancouver.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2000) “The State of the World’s Refugees 2000: Fifty Years of Humanitarian Action” Oxford: Oxford University Press.



Clark, Tom. (2008) “The Global Refugee Regime: Charity, Management and Human Rights” Victoria: Canada. Trafford Publishing, 2nd ed.

“UNHCR: The Legislation that Underpins our Work” http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49da0e466.html (Accessed February 15th 2012)

“UNHCR 2011 refugee statistics: full data” http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jun/20/refugee-statistics-unhcr-data (Accessed February 15th 2012)


Other related words (may be concepts):

  • 1951 Refugee Convention
  • Non-refoulement
  • Internally Displaced Persons
  • “Refugee Containment”/ “Refugee Management”