The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is the key legal document that defines who is a refugee, their rights, and the legal obligations of State parties

Asylum-Seekers: people who are seeking international protection. An asylum-seeker is someone whose claim has not yet been finally decided by UNHCR or authorities of the country in which he or she has requested refugee status. Not every asylum-seeker will ultimately be recognized as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum-seeker.

Stateless Persons: people who are not recognized by any country as citizens and who, consequently lack the protections flowing from citizenship.  Article 1 of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons sets out the criteria for statelessness in international law.

Internally Displaced People (IDPs): people who are forcibly displaced within their countries of origin or habitual residnece but who have not cross an internationally recognized State border. People may be internally displaced as a result of armed conflicts, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters.

Returnees: refugees who choose voluntarily to return to their country of origin, or in some circumstances, be assisted to return by UNHCR and receive support after they arrive

The publication Protecting Refugees & the Role of UNHCR answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about refugees and describes UNHCR’s activities in promoting their protection and assistance.

For more information on the people we help around the world, visit our global website.