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Definitions of terms

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The term refugee has been defined by the 1951 Convention as those who are outside their country and cannot return owing to a well-founded fear of persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group. Later conventions extended this definition to include those who fled their countries due to war or civil conflict.

During mass movements of refugees (usually as a result of conflicts or generalized violence as opposed to individual persecution), there is not – and never will be – a capacity to conduct individual asylum interviews for everyone who has crossed the border. Nor is it usually necessary, since in such circumstances it is generally evident why they have fled. As a result, such groups are often declared “prima facie” refugees.

 Asylum seekers

An asylum seeker is a person who flees his/her country seeking asylum within another nation, and protection from forced return to a place where life or freedom is in danger. An asylum seeker could have any number of reasons for departing their home country, and these reasons may or may not qualify them as a refugee under one of the international conventions for the protection of refugees. The term ‘asylum seeker’ is used to define those who apply for refugee status from either a state or UNHCR but who have not yet gained this recognition.


Migrants, especially economic migrants, move in order to improve the future prospects of themselves and their families.

 Mixed migrants

The term mixed migrants refers to the phenomena where people migrate for mixed reasons. Some are refugees and others are migrants. People are frequently on the move for a combination of reasons that are related to safeguarding both physical and economic security. The migration is very much linked to coping with livelihood problems caused by complex issues such as persecution, political turmoil and armed conflict, poverty and environmental problems arising out of factors such as climate change, population pressure, and natural disasters.


Protection is defined as ‘all activities aimed at ensuring full respect for the rights of the individual in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the relevant bodies of law, i.e. human rights law, international humanitarian law and refugee law’.

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