Refugee resettlement to Australia: what are the facts?

3 Feb 2015

This paper outlines Australia's refugee resettlement program, and the various legal and political questions surrounding it.

What is a refugee?

The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (the 1951 Refugee Convention) is the key international legal document defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of countries that are signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Refugee Convention defines a ‘refugee’ as:

  • a person who is outside his country of nationality or habitual residence
  • has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, and
  • is unable or unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution.

A Convention ‘refugee’ is different from an ‘asylum seeker’ because the former has had their asylum claims assessed and been found to satisfy the above definition. This assessment can be done by a country that has acceded to the 1951 Refugee Convention or by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). There is no such thing as a ‘genuine refugee’. A refugee by technical definition is simply someone who has been recognised as satisfying the above Convention definition. Further, a person is a refugee within the meaning of the 1951 Convention as soon as they satisfy the above definition. This might actually occur before their refugee status is formally determined by a country or the UNHCR. Refugee status is therefore declaratory in nature—in that a refugee does not become a refugee because they have been recognised to be one but rather, they are recognised because they are a refugee.

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