|Regions with significant populations|
|Europe and North Asia||1.299 million|
|Sub-Saharan Africa||1.293 million|
|Middle East and North Africa||142,371|
|Asia and the Pacific||134,613|
An asylum seeker is a person who fled their home country because of war or other factors harming them or their family, enters another country and applies for asylum, i.e. international protection, in this other country. An asylum seeker is an immigrant who was affected by forced displacement and may become considered a refugee. The terms asylum seeker and refugee are often confused.
A person becomes an asylum seeker by making a formal application for the right to remain in another country and keeps that status until the application has been concluded. The relevant immigration authorities of the country of asylum determine whether the asylum seeker will be granted protection and become an officially recognised refugee or whether asylum will be refused and asylum seeker becomes an illegal immigrant who may be asked to leave the country and may even be deported.
The asylum seeker may be recognised as a refugee and given refugee status if the person's circumstances fall into the definition of "refugee" according to the 1951 Refugee Convention or other refugee laws, such as the European Convention on Human Rights – if asylum is claimed within the European Union. However signatories to the refugee convention create their own policies for assessing the protection status of asylum seekers, and the proportion of asylum applicants who are accepted or rejected varies each year from country to country.
In North American English, the term "asylee" is also used. An asylee can either be an asylum seeker, as defined above or person whose claim for asylum was accepted and asylum was granted. On average, about 1 million people apply for asylum every year.
Non-governmental organizations concerned with refugees and asylum seekers have pointed out difficulties for displaced persons to seek asylum in industrialized countries. As the immigration policy in many countries often focuses on the fight of illegal immigration and the strengthening of border controls it deters displaced persons from entering territory in which they could lodge an asylum claim. The lack of opportunities to legally access the asylum procedures can force displaced persons to undertake often expensive and hazardous attempts at illegal entry.
In recent years, the public as well as policy makers of many countries are focussing more and more on refugees arriving through third country resettlement and pay less and less attention to asylum seekers and those who have already been granted refugee status but did not come through resettlement. Asylum seekers have even been referred to as "queue jumpers", because they did not wait for their chance to be resettled.
Different types of asylum and protection
Asylum as an institution is not restricted to the category of individuals who qualify for refugee status. Rather on the contrary, this institution predates the birth of the international regime for the protection of refugees.
Convention refugee status
As of 1 July 2013, there were 145 parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention and 146 to the 1967 Protocol. These states are bound by an obligation under international law to grant asylum to people who fall within the definition of Convention and Protocol. The refugee definitions of 1951 and 1967 are the strictest and most exclusive and persons who fall within this definition are called Convention refugees and their status is called Convention refugee status. Persons who do not fall within this definition may still be granted complementary forms of protection, if they fall within other refugee definitions.
The practical determination of whether a person is a refugee or not is most often left to certain government agencies within the host country. In some countries the refugee status determination (RSD) is done by the UNHCR. The burden of substantiating an asylum claim lies with the claimant, who must establish that they qualify for protection.
In many countries, Country of Origin information is used by migration officials as part of the assessment of asylum claims, and governments commission research into the accuracy of their country reports. Some countries have studied the rejection rates of their migration officials making decisions, finding that individuals reject more applicants than others assessing similar cases - and migration officials are required to standardise the reasons for accepting or rejecting claims, so that the decision of one adjudicator is consistent with what their colleagues decide.
Complementary forms of protection
The refugee definition of the 1951 Convention is universally binding, but there are many other definitions according to which protection may be offered to people who do not fall within this definition.
Subsidiary protection status
Subsidiary protection is an international protection for persons seeking asylum, but do not qualify as refugees. It is an option to get asylum for those who do not have a well founded fear of persecution (which is required for refugee status according to the 1951 Convention), but do indeed have a substantial risk to be subjected to torture or to a serious harm if they are returned to their country of origin, for reasons that include war, violence, conflict and massive violations of human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and European Union law have a broader definition of who is entitled to asylum.
Temporary protection visa
Temporary protection visas are used to persons in Australia who applied for refugee status after making an unauthorised arrival. It is the main type of visa issued to refugees when released from Australian immigration detention facilities and they are required to reapply for it every three years.
Statistics of asylum decisions
|Decisions||2014 ||2013 ||2012 ||2011 ||2010 ||2009 ||2008 ||2007 |
|Convention refugee status||286,723||213,723||210,851||172,566||175,163||225,112||148,241||149,133|
|Complementary protection status||339,783||72,832||51,058||43,945||47,822||49,430||62,726||60,048|
Status determination processes
Asylum seekers may be given refugee status on a group basis. Refugees who went thought the group status determination are also referred to as prima facie refugees. This is done in situations when the reasons for seeking refugee status are generally well known and individual assessment would otherwise overwhelm the capacities of assessors. Group determination is more readily done in states that not only have accepted the refugee definition of the 1951 Convention, but also use a refugee definition that includes people fleeing indiscriminate or generalized violence, which are not covered in the 1951 Convention.
For persons who do not come into the country as part of a bigger group individual asylum interviews are conducted to establish whether the person has sufficient reasons for seeking asylum.
In many countries, asylum applicants can challenge a rejection by challenging the decision in a court or migration review panel. In the United Kingdom, more than one in four decisions to refuse an asylum seeker protection are overturned by immigration judges.
Rights of asylum seekers
Whilst waiting for a decision asylum seekers have limited rights in the country of asylum. In most countries they are not allowed to work and in some countries not even to volunteer. In some countries they are not allowed to move freely within the country. Even access to health care is limited. In the European Union, those who have yet to be granted official status as refugees and are still within the asylum process have some restricted rights to healthcare access. This includes access to medical and psychological care. However, these may vary depending on the host country. For instance, under the Asylum Seekers Benefits Act in Germany, asylum seekers are outside primary care and are limited to emergency health care, vaccinations, pregnancy and childbirth with limitations on specialty care. Asylum seekers have greater chance of experiencing unmet health needs as compared to the general German population. They also have greater odds of hospital admissions and at least one visit to a psychotherapists relative to the German general population.
Because asylum seekers often have to wait for months or years for the results of their asylum applications and because they are usually not allowed to work and only receive minimal or no financial support destitution is a considerable risk.
Asylum seekers usually get some kind of support from governments whilst their application is processed. However, in some countries this support ends immediately once they are given refugee status. But the fact that they were given refugee status does not mean that they were already given all the documents they need for starting their new lives.
Refusal of asylum
It often happens that the country neither recognizes the refugee status of the asylum seekers nor sees them as legitimate migrants and thus treats them as illegal aliens. If an asylum claim has been rejected, the asylum seeker is said to be refused asylum, and called a failed asylum seeker. Some failed asylum seekers are allowed to remain temporarily, some return home voluntarily and some are forcibly returned. The latter are most often placed in immigration detention before being deported.
Right to remain temporarily
Even though asylum wasn't granted the applicant may be given the right to remain temporarily. In the UK refused cases may be granted humanitarian protection (usually for 5 years) or discretionary leave to remain.
Refugees cannot be deported or otherwise forced to go back to their country of origin as this would be refoulement, which is against international law. But in many cases failed asylum seekers, i.e. who failed to be considered as refugees, are equally vulnerable and may face significant risks when going back, voluntarily or not.
If asylum seekers have serious medical problems or it is not safe for them to return to their country of origin it is against international law to deport them. However, sometimes they are deported even though they face risks there and it is not safe for them to return. UK authorities have been accused of paying insufficient attention to medical evidence of torture in some cases.
Deportees may be separated from their families who can temporarily or permanently continue to remain in the country; younger persons may not have been to their country of origin for most of their lives, may not even be able to speak the language, don't know anyone and have no connection whatsoever with that country, apart from the formality of having been born there; they may be traumatised through experiences made in detention; they may be detained again as soon as they enter their country of origin; they may even be persecuted.
Exclusion from protection
Asylum seekers who have committed crimes against peace, a war crime or a crime against humanity, or other serious non-political crimes, or whose actions are contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations, are excluded from international protection.
- Asylum in Australia
- Asylum in Germany
- Asylum in the United States
- Forced displacement in popular culture
- Refugee identity certificate
- Right of asylum
- Sanctuary city
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