a refugee may be commonly defined as “A person who has been forced to leave
their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster”1
but the term ‘refugee’ is narrow in the international law. The 1951 United Nations
Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (hereafter the 1951 Convention)
defines a refugee as a person who “owing to well-founded 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.”2
are various criteria which have to be fulfilled in a claim by an asylum-seeker
to recognize as a refugee. The 1951 Convention is distinct in its definition that
will constitute to be a refugee. The various terms used in the 1951 Convention
have been broadly interpreted and are briefly discussed below.
Well-Founded Fear of Persecution
is no universally accepted definition of “persecution”, and various attempts to
formulate such a definition have met with little success. An asylum-seeker has
to demonstrate that he has fled his country of origin because of the
well-founded fear of persecution. The applicant must,
therefore, furnish sound reasons for fearing persecution. It may be
assumed that a person’s fear is well-founded if he has already been a victim of
persecution on one of the grounds enumerated in the 1951 Convention. The word “fear”
refers not only to persons who have actually been persecuted but also to those who wish to avoid a situation
entailing the risk of persecution. The fear must be well-founded; the first
criteria for determining what is “well-founded” is a subjective element
relating to the perceptions, emotions and experiences of the claimant, and the
second is an objective element, which may be assessed from the general
situation in the country.
Under the 1951 Convention, a person must
demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution for one or more of the following
of particular social group
on the basis of race, ethnicity, caste, colour,
or creed is widespread, and this often results in the strife of such severity that those targeted are compelled to flee
persecution. The example of South African blacks fleeing the apartheid regime
in their country of origin is often cited as a classic case of flight from
persecution on the ground of race. Similarly, thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil
refugees in India have fled persecution based on their ethnic background.
persecution can be of various forms: prohibiting a person from worshipping in private or public, forbidding
membership of a religious community, even adopting discriminatory measures
against certain people because of their religious beliefs. More recently in
2015, the ISIS shoots and beheaded 30 Ethiopian Christian in Lybia.3
According to Amnesty
International, people from Nigeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Egypt have been
“abducted, tortured, unlawfully killed and harassed because of their religion”
in Libya, particularly by ISIS.4
is often confused with the ‘citizenship’ but may at times overlap the term ‘race’.
Nationality is also used as a justification for persecution. Nationality is
interpreted, in a broad sense, to include the origins and membership of particular
ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic groups. There is a degree of overlap
between the various grounds of persecution, and factors often cumulatively
contribute to a well-founded fear of persecution.5
For instance, in
Membership in a Social Group
in a social group may also be used as a ground of persecution for refugee
status under the 1951 Convention. It is considered to be a catch-all provision,
which may include any group of persons, or an individual associated with a
particular group, who demonstrate common characteristics (e.g., similar
backgrounds, sexual orientation, habits or social status). These common
characteristics must be immutable and fundamental to a person’s identity such
that the person should not be able to change it. A ‘particular social group’
may also refer to a person’s family, trade union, social organization, sexual
orientation, or gender.
The political opinion refers to an opinion on any matter in which the machinery of
the State, or government, is engaged. Government’s persecution based on
political opinion occurs when that opinion is viewed as an actual or perceived
threat to that government or its institutions. A situation may also arise where
the refugee does not have a political opinion in opposition to the government
or State entity but is imputed to hold
such views. This concept of imputed behaviour
is accounted for in the refugee definition. An example of political opinion
persecution is found in Tibetan refugees in India, who faced both political and
ethnic persecution by the Chinese government, forcing them to flee the region they
had regarded as autonomous.
1 https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/refugee (Visited on December 20, 2005).
2 Article 1(A) (2) of 1951
Convention Relating to the status of Refugees.
Visited on December 25, 2017.
Visited on December 25, 2017.
Goodwin-gill, The refugee in
International law 46 (1983).