Who is a refugee?

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A refugee is a person who has fled from their own country due to human rights abuses they have suffered there because of who they are or what they believe in, and whose own government cannot or will not protect them. As a result, they have been forced to seek international protection. Refugee rights include:

  • protection from being forcibly returned to a country where they would be at risk of persecution.
  • protection from discrimination
  • protection from penalties for illegal entry
  • the right to work, housing and education
  • the right to freedom of movement
  • the right to identity and travel documents


Who is an asylum-seeker?

An asylum-seeker is someone who has left their country in search of international protection, but is yet to be recognized as a refugee. According to Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights everyone has “the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”.

Amnesty International works to ensure that asylum-seekers:

  • are not prohibited from entering a country to seek asylum
  • are not returned to a country where they would be at risk of serious human rights abuses
  • have access to fair and effective asylum procedures
  • have access to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) for assistance, where applicable
  • are not unlawfully or arbitrarily detained

Amnesty International does not oppose the return of unsuccessful asylum-seekers if they are found not to be in need of international protection following a fair and satisfactory asylum procedure and if their return takes place in safety and dignity.

Who is a migrant?

Migrants move from one country to another usually to find work, although there may be other reasons for migrating such as to join family members. Some move voluntarily, while others are forced to leave because of economic hardship or other problems. People can migrate ‘regularly’, with legal permission to work and live in a country, or ‘irregularly’, without permission from the country they wish to live and work in.

Regardless of their status in a country, both regular and irregular migrants have human rights, including the right to freedom from slavery and servitude, freedom from arbitrary detention, freedom from exploitation and forced labour, the right to freedom of assembly, the right to education for their children, equal access to courts and rights at work. These rights are laid out in the Migrant Workers’ Convention (1990) as well as other human rights treaties.

Find out more

Greece: irregular migrants and asylum-seekers routinely detained in substandard conditions

Abused and abandoned: refugees denied rights in Malaysia

Living in the shadows: a primer on the human rights of migrants

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