Asylum seeker

Asylum seekers in 2015[1]
Total population
3.219 million
Regions with significant populations
Europe1.299 million
Africa1.293 million
Middle East and North Africa142,371
Asia and the Pacific134,613

An asylum seeker (also rarely called an asylee applicant) is a person who flees their home country, enters another country and applies for asylum, i.e. the right to international protection, in this other country. An asylum seeker is a type of migrant and may be a refugee, a displaced person, but not an economic migrant. Migrants are not necessarily asylum seekers. 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 applicant becomes an "asylee" if their claim is accepted and asylum is granted. The relevant immigration authorities of the country of asylum determine whether the asylum seeker will be granted protection and become an officially recognised refugee (asylee) or whether asylum will be refused and asylum seeker becomes an illegal immigrant who has 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 rejected varies from country to country and year to year.

The terms asylum seeker and refugee are often confused: an asylum-seeker is someone who says he or she is a refugee, but whose claim has not yet been definitively evaluated. On average, about 1 million people seek asylum on an individual basis every year.[2]

Non-governmental organizations concerned with refugees and asylum seekers have pointed out difficulties for displaced persons to seek asylum in industrialized countries. As their immigration policy 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 asylum seekers 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 may be even referred to as "queue jumpers", because they did not wait for their chance to be resettled[3]

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.[4] 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.[5][6]

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.[7]

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.[8] 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

Outcomes of asylum applications between 2014 and 2007
Decisions 2014 [9] 2013 [10] 2012 [11] 2011 [12] 2010 [13] 2009 [14] 2008 [15] 2007 [16]
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
Rejected 434,850 376,181 437,969 360,746 356,154 310,945 304,811 259,982
Otherwise closed 349,440 219,461 205,351 192,472 153,016 158,219 148,001 170,704
Total 1,410,796 881,197 915,023 770,406 732,155 743,205 669,316 639,844