Frequently Asked Questions
As part of RSN’s mission to advance human rights, we seek to simplify and deconstruct refugee law and human rights frameworks in order to help answer questions that many of our stakeholders have, including why we choose to target our interventions where we do and why we advocate for the protection of refugees across the globe.
Every year, millions of people are uprooted from their homes due to the challenges presented by war, natural disasters, food insecurity, water scarcity, lack of opportunity; all in search for a better life.
As of 2018, there are roughly 68.5 million such displaced people in the world, according to UNHCR.
The majority (around 40 million) of those are internally displaced persons, meaning they are facing the crisis of displacement without leaving the borders of their home country. As of 2018, more than 25.4 million people around the world have crossed an international border in seek of safety.
The term “refugee” has a legal consequence under international law. There are two kinds of refugees: those who are individually at risk of persecution, and those who flee generalized violence or war. The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees covers the first group, defining a refugee as someone who “owing to a 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 to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”
International and regional refugee instruments, international human rights and humanitarian law, and state practice and jurisprudence complement this definition in the 1951 Convention. These sources include as refugees those individuals who have fled due to armed conflict and war. Even though these people may not have been targeted individually, they may still be afforded international protection and the rights of refugees. While the term “climate refugees” has recently been used in popular discourse, individuals fleeing natural disaster or famine generally do not qualify for international protection or refugee status.
Refugee status determination (RSD) is the process whereby an adjudicator (authorities of the host country or UNHCR) establishes that an individual seeking international protection qualifies as a refugee –– that is, whether his or her situation meets the criteria specified in the applicable refugee definition.
The primary responsibility for identifying those who come within the refugee definition lies with the government in the host country. The UNHCR has a supervisory responsibility. However, not all governments are capable or willing to conduct RSD up to international standards. In such instances (about 60 countries around the world), the UNHCR carries out RSD.
Individual RSD does not always have to be carried out, nor is it feasible. For groups arriving en masse, they may be classified as refugees in groups.
When an individual crosses an international border and seeks asylum, their host country has an obligation not to turn them back and to provide them safety (non-refoulement), as well as certain basic rights and entitlements.
This obligation exists until a durable solution can be found for this person. There are three such durable solutions: repatriation (the individual voluntarily wishes to return to their home country when it becomes safe), local integration (the individual secures citizenship in their host country), or resettlement (being relocated to a third country other than the first country of asylum).
Not all countries have ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention. Even ones that have do not always honor the terms, as is often the case with international law. Governments cite a variety of reasons why honoring refugee rights is untenable, including resource limitations and lack of political will.
In the end, all states, even non-signatories to the 1951 Convention, have basic obligations under customary international law. In order to ensure that governments respect basic rights, and to encourage them to adopt policies in line with international standards, there must be civil society actors to support refugees, monitor government behavior, and in some cases to hold governments accountable.
In the US-context, “asylum” is used to refer to those individuals already on US territory that cannot return to their home country for fear of persecution. In the US, this population is categorized differently from “refugees,” who have found safety in other countries. The US brings refugees to the US through the refugee resettlement program, which has shrunk in size in 2017 and 2018.
In the international-context, “asylum-seeker” is usually used to refer to someone who has filed an application for protection and that application is still being processed.
RSN recognizes the need to hold all governments accountable and responsive to refugees, including the US, Canada, and other developed states. RSN recognizes the work of many tireless advocates and organizations in developed countries, working to ensure that these countries honor refugee rights (increasingly difficult and important work).
At the same time, RSN recognizes the reality that 85% of refugees worldwide live in the developing world and that most live in the neighboring country to their own. That’s why RSN chooses to target its limited resources on key host states like Turkey, Bangladesh, and Bulgaria. These are countries hosting significant refugee populations and are facing major systemic challenges in receiving them. In fact, Turkey is the largest host country in the world, with about 4 million foreigners seeking protection in the country.
RSN is the only US-based non-profit organization working with a partnership model that prioritizes capacity development of civil society in host states.
RSN is the only US-based non-profit organization that gives refugees and the host community equal emphasis in its approach.
RSN believes that host countries like Turkey and Bangladesh do not lack expertise or capability to manage refugee arrivals – the necessary actors have not been included in the decision-making process and need to be supported in order to make improvements in resource allocation, management, policy-making and implementation.