Refugees, Migrants, Asylum-Seekers: Who Are They?

Refugees, Migrants, Asylum-Seekers: Who Are They?


Welcome to A Migrant’s View! To kick off our series with origin country expert Nassim Majidi, we ask her to lay out the definitions of refugee, asylum-seeker, and migrant. Can migrants be classified into neat categories? Should they be?

We also ask Nassim to clarify who a “real refugee” is, looking specifically at the case of those who arrive to Europe via “third countries”. We hear this argument a lot, and it goes something like this: Those who’ve taken their fate into their own hands and arrived to Europe irregularly, from countries such as Turkey and Lebanon, are not real refugees and thus do not deserve protection from European states. Is this a valid story?

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Recommended Reading

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 following World War II, states in Article 14 that everyone “has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”. The 1951 Refugee Convention defines what a refugee is and forms the basis of UNHCR’s work.

For an in-depth look at the legal rights of asylum-seekers and refugees, we recommend this guide by the International Justice Research Center.

A lot has been written about language and definitions for refugee, migrant, asylum-seeker, and economic migrant. This Telegraph article dissects the complications using examples from the height of the crisis in autumn 2015, a breakdown of the terminology can be found in this blog piece from the Center for Global Development, this editorial by Al Jazeera explains a decision to use certain vocabulary, and the New York Times did a Q&A piece on the definitions and their legal implications.

Gain a broader understanding of what it means to be poor in this Harvard Magazine piece, which references Amartya Sen who was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science for his work on human rights, poverty, and inequality.

The New York Times released a short documentary in 2016 exploring the complicated and often heart-wrenching choice Afghans face in leaving their homeland.

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Nassim Majidi

Nassim is associate doctor at Sciences Po’s Centre for International Studies and the Co-Founder/Head of Migration Practice at Samuel Hall. Nassim conducts research into conditions in origin countries, studying questions like motivations for migration, migrant journeys, the role of smuggling, and post-return outcomes via Samuel Hall’s regional offices in Nairobi, Kabul, and Mogadishu.