The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) leads and coordinates international action to protect refugees. Its main goal is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees, helping to ensure that they can exercise their right to seek asylum and find safe refuge.

What Are the Refugees’ Rights?

Refugees must respect the laws of their country of asylum. However, refugees also have rights of their own, including:

  • The right to safe asylum
  • Physical safety
  • The rights and basic help accorded to other foreigners who are legal residents, including freedom of thought, movement, freedom from torture and degrading treatment
  • Economic and social rights
  • Medical care, schooling, and the right to work

The UNHCR may also provide assistance when sufficient government resources are not available.

Who Can Be a Refugee?

There are certain classes of people who can be a refugee. Strictly speaking, the legal definition of a refugee is a person who is outside his country because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. There are questions, however, as to whether particular classes of individuals can be considered refugees:

  • Draft Evaders – Countries have the right to ask its citizens to bear arms in national emergencies, but the citizens should also have a right to conscientiously object. Draft evaders fearing persecution on political or other grounds may be eligible for refugee status.
  • Criminals – Those who have committed a crime and received a fair trial may not necessarily be a refugee. However, a person is not necessarily excluded from being a refugee if, in addition to non-political crimes, they are also being persecuted for political or other reasons.
  • War Criminals – Those who have participated in war crimes and who have violated international humanitarian and human rights law are specifically excluded from refugee status.
  • Soldiers – Refugees are civilians. Soldiers who fought against their country of origin cannot be considered refugees.
  • Women facing persecution due to a refusal to comply with social constraints – A woman who flees discrimination or persecution for her failure to conform to strict social codes may be considered for refugee status.
  • Women fearing genital mutilation – France, the Netherlands, Canada, and the United States have recognized that genital mutilation is a form of persecution and can be a basis for refugee status.
  • Sexual Orientation – Homosexuals may be eligible for refugee status based on persecution because of membership in a particular social group.

Should I Contact a Lawyer about My Status as a Refugee?

The field of international law is very broad and potentially confusing. An experienced immigration lawyer can help guide you through the process of becoming a refugee. An immigration attorney can also help you seek permanent residence if you are eligible.