This page provides information on the definition of a refugee, an asylum seeker and UNHCR. This is followed by resources for applying for asylum or refugee status. At the end of the page, you will find a list with Pro Bono organisations supporting refugees in the listed countries.
What is a Refugee?
A refugee is an individual who has no protection from their own country and therefore had to flee their country. They have good reason to believe that they are persecuted due to their race, nationality, religion (religious beliefs and actions), political beliefs or membership in a particular social group.
NOTE THAT: “ Refugee status” is declarative. This means that you are a refugee as soon as you fulfill the criteria set forth in the above definition. Recognition of refugee status does not make you a refugee, it merely recognises (for the hosting state) an already existing situation.
Legal Definition of a Refugee:
If you would like to see an explanation of what the 1951 Convention is and how it helps refugees, please see here.
At the international level, namely the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) deals with the legal status of a refugee.
According to Article 1 A (2) of the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, the definition of a refugee is reflected in the following paragraph: ‘...owing to well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, [an individual] 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.’
This means, if you are a refugee and UNHCR is responsible in the country where you seeked protection to process applications of refugees to be legally recognised as a refugee (this is called Refugee Status Determination), you must satisfy the definition provided above in the 1951 Refugee Convention.
If you are in a country that has a national refugee law and in which a national authority and not UNHCR is dealing with applications of refugees, the legal definition of a refugee might be broader or narrower.
Refugees have three options: 1) repatriation (being sent back) to the country they fled from, 2) resettlement in a different country or 3) integration into their host country they have fled to.
What is an Asylum Seeker?
It is someone who is formally seeking asylum (through an application or registration at a national authority or UNHCR) in a country that is not their own to be recognised as a refugee. This means they might fulfil the definition of a refugee, but it has not yet been examined and recognised by the hosting state or UNHCR. If you are an asylum seeker, please see the ‘Pro se Asylum Guide’ below.
What is UNHCR?
UNHCR, which stands for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is a United Nations agency which is responsible for the protection of refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people, and assistance in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country.
RESOURCES FOR APPLYING FOR ASYLUM OR REFUGEE STATUS
If you are a refugee and you need to contact an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), please click here for a list of UNHCR offices . UNHCR is attempting to put each of its Country Offices online. It so far has only a few, but it could be worthwhile you are checking their sites here .
A number of UNHCR operations can also be contacted through Facebook and Messenger. Go to Facebook and type in ‘UNHCR’ and the name of the country you seek refuge from; for example type ‘UNHCR Kenya’ for their Facebook page .
Self Help Kits
If you are a refugee who is applying for asylum through UNHCR, here are Self Help Kits to aid you in the process of writing your statement for your Refugee Status Determination Interview. The kits are available in Arabic , English , French , and Spanish .
Additionally, below is a list of non-government organisations (NGOs) or not-for-profit organisations (and, in rare cases, individual lawyers) who offer pro bono legal aid and/or other services related to the needs of refugees. Some countries have no legal aid for refugees but do have NGOs that provide other services that can be valuable for refugees and might lead to legal aid.
These listings have been provided by the organization or an individual, or occasionally obtained from a website. Every effort is made to list only bona fide organizations and to ensure accuracy, but we cannot assume responsibility for errors or quality of services.
Please contact us to correct or suggest listings.
Those who experience violations of the Nairobi Code in the services provided by an organization, or otherwise experience serious problems with its services as they are described in the entry provided on this website, are encouraged to write to Tabea Dilling (alice [dot] johnsonamerainternational [dot] org) or to Themba Lewis (themba [dot] lewisamerainternational [dot] org).
The Protecting Refugees Information Pack
The Protecting Refugees Information Pack is a joint initiative by the Council of Europe and the Office of the UNHCR. This pack demonstrates not only the need to protect the rights of refugees, as millions continue to be forced from their homelands, but also the partnership between the Council of Europe and UNHCR and the role we can play, together, to help the refugees. It covers a range of important topics, such as asylum-seekers and detention, refugees and social and economic inclusion, refugees and violence, and stateless persons.
Pro Se Asylum Guide - for asylum cases specifically in the USA
If you are an asylum seeker with no legal representation in the USA, and specifically if your proceedings are before the San Francisco Immigration Court, The Stanford Law School Immigrants' Rights Clinic has created a Pro Se Asylum Guide in English and Spanish . The Pro Se Asylum Guide is a usable and interactive guide tailored to the specific needs of individuals with asylum cases in San Francisco Immigration Court, a document that can be used by anyone, with simple language, clear examples, worksheets and charts for individuals to fill out to organize the information in their own cases, and sample forms (such as cover letters and applications). It aims to assist those that cannot afford to hire a private attorney and unable to attain assistance from non-profits.
A general guide to handling asylum cases on your own in the US is provided by the UNHCR here .
Providing Protection: Access to high quality early legal advice for asylum seekers - especially for those applying for asylum in Europe
Refugees are advised to read and take serious note of this report and its recommendations, especially if they are applying for asylum in Europe.
If you’re applying for asylum specifically in the United Kingdom, this link will help break down the application process.
If you are a legal advisor, please note: Those who are providing refugees with legal assistance, especially in Europe, should note the conclusions and recommendations. The ‘Early Legal Advice’ research project was undertaken in Ireland to examine the provision of legal advice to people seeking international protection in three EU Member States: Estonia, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.The report is aimed at assisting those advocating for legal advice as part of the asylum process and those required to implement the Asylum Procedures Directive.
For refugees, the report above highlights the importance of preparing and submitting an early, high quality asylum claim, or in the case of rejection, an appeal. This legal advice is intended to assist the process of trying to ensure that the experience of claiming asylum and the task of the decision maker are not made harder by misunderstandings, mistrust and an inability or unwillingness to engage in what can be a very intrusive process. This report looks at what understandings of early legal advice exist and what level of commitment there is to provide quality legal advice at the beginning of the asylum process.
It should be noted that the results are varied and perspectives differ even within the individual countries which were examined for the national reports. But the overriding view was that early legal advice can assist in ensuring that the right decisions are made at the earliest opportunity.
The following link contains resources to assist with reuniting families internationally, and specific to the EU, UK and USA. Online resources can be accessed here .