Governments establish status determination procedures to decide a person’s legal standing and rights in accordance to their own legal systems. UNHCR may offer advice as part of its mandate to promote refugee law, protect refugees and supervise the implementation of the 1951 Refugee Convention. The agency advocates that governments adopt a rapid, flexible and liberal process, recognizing how difficult it often is to document persecution.
UNHCR’s 57-member Executive Committee sets non-binding guidelines that may be useful in this respect and the agency’s “Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status” is an authoritative interpretation of the 1951 Convention. In countries which are not party to international refugee instruments but who request UNHCR’s assistance, the agency may determine a person’s refugee status and offer its protection and assistance.
1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol
Refugees are among the most vulnerable people in the world. The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol help protect them. They are the only global legal instruments explicitly covering the most important aspects of a refugee’s life. According to their provisions, refugees deserve, as a minimum, the same standards of treatment enjoyed by other foreign nationals in a given country and, in many cases, the same treatment as nationals.
The 1951 Convention contains a number of rights and also highlights the obligations of refugees towards their host country. The cornerstone of the 1951 Convention is the principle of non-refoulement. According to this principle, a refugee should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to his or her life or freedom. This protection may not be claimed by refugees who are reasonably regarded as a danger to the security of the country, or having been convicted of a particularly serious crime, are considered a danger to the community.
The rights contained in the 1951 Convention include:
- The right not to be expelled, except under certain, strictly defined conditions;
- The right not to be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a contracting State;
- The right to work;
- The right to housing;
- The right to education;
- The right to public relief and assistance;
- The right to freedom of religion;
- The right to access the courts;
- The right to freedom of movement within the territory;
- The right to be issued identity and travel documents.
Some basic rights, including the right to be protected from refoulement, apply to all refugees. A refugee becomes entitled to other rights the longer they remain in the host country, which is based on the recognition that the longer they remain as refugees, the more rights they need.