How are refugees legally protected?

The 1951 Geneva Convention states in Article IA(2) the definition of a refugee: A person who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail him or herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution. 145 State parties ratified the Geneva Convention and it is a milestone of refugee protection. There exist further regional and national laws protecting the rights of refugees. The Convention is the only international document, emphasising also that refugee protection is a global task.

Above all, the principle of non-refoulement (Article 33) stipulates that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. Furthermore, a refugee is entitled to the right to work (Art. 17 to 19), the right to housing (Art. 21) and the right to education (Art. 22), among others. Under no circumstances shall a refugee be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a Contracting state (Art. 31).

The UNHCR is the governing body of the 1951 Geneva Convention and its 1967 Protocol. Read here the UNHCR’s well-designed paper about the 1951 Convention with FAQ.

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