Who is a ‘refugee’ and who is an ‘asylum seeker’?


In the first place, we don’t like to be called ‘refugees’. We ourselves call each other ‘newcomers’ or ‘immigrants’.

Our optimism, indeed, is admirable, even if we say so ourselves. The story of our struggle has finally become known. We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings. We left our relatives in the Polish ghettos and our best friends have been killed in concentration camps, and that means the rupture of our private lives.

Nevertheless, as soon as we were saved - and most of us had to be saved several times - we started our new lives and tried to follow as closely as possible all the good advice our saviors passed on to us.

(Arendt, 1943)

This chapter poses the questions of who is a refugee and who is an asylum seeker, both under international law and in a broader sociological sense. Written towards the end of the World War II, and before the full horrors of the Holocaust had been revealed, Hannah Arendts quotes illustrate how being a refugee involves loss and the struggle to regain dignity over time.

International laws to protect refugees were devised after World War II, at a time when protecting refugees from persecution was taken very seriously. This chapter details the forms of protection established to protect refugees. Both the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the subsequent 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees will be outlined - as will other definitions contained within regional mechanisms for protecting refugees. The right to seek asylum will also be explored.

Thereafter, the geography of the worlds refugees are examined, including the 26 million refugees worldwide - 20.4 million under the mandate of UNHCR and 5.6 million Palestinian refugees under a separate mandate of UNRWA at the time of writing this chapter (UNHCR, 2020). Then, people who live in what have become known as protracted refugee situations (PRS) will be

‘Refugee’ or ‘asylum seeker’? 27 considered. A short outline of history of the ‘durable solutions’ of resettlement, local integration and repatriation available for refugees are then provided. How people seeking asylum move through a Refugee Status Determination process will illustrate the declining availability of legal routes to seek asylum and gain ‘refugee’ status.

Throughout, short summaries of the work of key thinkers and key concepts are provided, along with examples to bring to life these real-world dilemmas.

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