Refugees seek safety in another country when they experience a threat of persecution and because their own country is unwilling or unable to protect their fundamental rights. When faced with serious violations of their human rights, they have no choice but to leave their homes, their families and communities in order to survive.

By definition, refugees are not protected by their own governments. In lieu of State protection, the international community created key international and regional agreements to safeguard the rights of refugees.

The 1951 Refugee Convention, and its 1967 Protocol, is the only global legal instrument dealing with the status and rights of refugees, while regional agreements include the 1984 Cartagena Declaration and the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention in Africa.

The 1951 Refugee Convention defines refugees’ human rights, including the principle of non-refoulement, stating that a refugee “should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to his or her life or freedom.” Other rights include the right to work, the right to freedom of movement, the right to housing, education, justice, and more.

Though ratified by 147 countries, the 1951 Refugee Convention and its Protocol do not ensure refugees’ enjoyment of their fundamental human rights in their host countries. In fact, many signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention regularly deny refugees’ their rights through restrictive national refugee policies.

Countries with an encampment policy, such as Tanzania, deny refugees’ right to freedom of movement. Unable to work or move freely, many refugees choose to live outside of the camps and face constant risk of arrest and detention, while those that remain in the camp rely heavily on humanitarian aid. In other countries, such as Ecuador, administrative barriers impede refugees’ access to safe and lawful employment, access to housing and education.

Meanwhile, countries that are not signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention, such as Thailand and Malaysia, consider refugees to be undocumented immigrants. Refugees in these countries live on the margins of society, fearful of arbitrary harassment, extortion, arrest and detention.

Asylum Access is leading a movement to bridge the gap between rights on paper and rights in practice. By ensuring refugees’ basic rights, they are more likely to succeed in rebuilding their lives, supporting their families, and integrating into their host communities.