The 1951 Refugee Convention (as broadened by the 1967 Protocol) provides that the term “refugee” shall apply to any person who:
"owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it."
The publication Protecting Refugees & the Role of UNHCR answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about refugees and, and UNHCR’s activities to promote their protection and assistance.
UNHCR also assists many people who do not fall under the strict legal definition of a refugee. "Persons of Concern to UNHCR" is a general term used to describe all people whose protection and assistance needs are of interest to UNHCR. Some of the other Persons of Concern to UNHCR include:
Asylum-Seeker: an individual who is seeking international protection. In countries with individualized refugee status determination procedures, an asylum-seeker is someone whose claim has not yet been finally decided on by the country in which he or she has submitted it. Not every asylum-seeker will ultimately be recognized as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum-seeker.
Stateless People: people who, under national laws, do not have the legal bond of nationality with any State. Article 1 of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons indicates that a person not considered a national (or citizen) automatically under the laws of any State, is stateless.
Internally Displaced People (IDPs): those people who are forced or obliged to flee from their homes, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflicts, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border.
Returnees: refugees who have returned to their country or community of origin, often assisted to return and supported by UNHCR after they arrive.
In its work with all of these groups, UNHCR pays particular attention to the needs of particular groups and those who may be most vulnerable such as children and young people, women, men, older people, and people with disabilities.
For more information on the people we help around the world, visit our global website.