Convention relating to the Status of Refugees

Convention relating to the Status of Refugees

Convention relating to the Status of Refugees(and protocol)
  parties to only the 1951 Convention
  parties to only the 1967 Protocol
  parties to both
Signed 28 July 1951 (13 January 1967)
Location Geneva (Switzerland)
Effective 22 April 1954 (4 October 1967)
Signatories 19
Parties Convention: 147[1]
Protocol: 146[1]
Depositary Secretary-General of the United Nations
Languages English and French
(Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish)
1951 Refugee Convention at Wikisource

The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, also known as the 1951 Refugee Convention, is a United Nations multilateral treaty that defines who is a refugee, and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum. The Convention also sets out which people do not qualify as refugees, such as war criminals. The Convention also provides for some visa-free travel for holders of travel documents issued under the convention.

The Convention builds on Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes the right of persons to seek asylum from persecution in other countries. A refugee may enjoy rights and benefits in a state in addition to those provided for in the Convention.[2]


  • History 1
  • Definition of a refugee 2
  • Responsibilities of parties to the Refugee Convention 3
  • Innocence of refugees unlawfully entering the country of refuge 4
  • The principle of non-refoulement 5
  • Application Today 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


The Convention was approved at a special United Nations conference on 28 July 1951. Denmark was the first state to ratify the treaty on 4 December 1952, which entered into force on 22 April 1954. It was initially limited to protecting European refugees from before 1 January 1951 (after World War II), though states could make a declaration that the provisions would apply to refugees from other places.

The 1967 Protocol removed the time limits and applied to refugees "without any geographic limitation", but declarations previously made by parties to the Convention on geographic scope were grandfathered.[3] (Although, like many international treaties, the Refugee Convention was agreed in Geneva,[4] it is incorrect to refer to it as "the Geneva Convention," because there are four treaties regulating armed conflict known as the Geneva Conventions.)

As of July 2013, there were 145 parties to the Convention, and 146 to the Protocol.[1][5][6] Most recently, the President of Nauru, Marcus Stephen, signed both the Convention and the Protocol on 17 June 2011[7][8] and acceded on 28 June 2011. Madagascar and Saint Kitts and Nevis are parties only to the Convention, while Cape Verde, the United States of America and Venezuela are parties only to the Protocol.

Definition of a refugee

Article 1 of the Convention, as amended by the 1967 Protocol, defines a refugee as:

"A person who owing to a 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.."[9]

Several groups have built upon the 1951 Convention to create a more objective definition. While their terms differ to that of the 1951 Convention, the Convention has significantly shaped these new, more objective definitions. These include the 1969 Cartagena Declaration, while non-binding, also sets out regional standards for refugees in Central America, Mexico and Panama.

Responsibilities of parties to the Refugee Convention

In the general principle of international law, treaties in force are binding upon the parties to it and must be performed in good faith. Countries that have ratified the Refugee Convention are obliged to protect refugees that are on their territory, in accordance with its terms.[10]

There are a number of provisions that States who are parties of the Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol must adhere to. Among them are:

  • Cooperation with the UNHCR: Under Article 35 of the Refugee Convention and Article II of the 1967 Protocol, states agree to cooperate with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the exercise of its functions and to help UNHCR supervise the implementation of the provisions in the Convention.[10]
  • Information on national legislation: parties to the Convention agree to inform the United Nations Secretary-General about the laws and regulations they may adopt to ensure the application of the Convention.[10]
  • Exemption from reciprocity: The notion of reciprocity- where, according to a country's law, the granting of a right to an alien is subject to the granting of similar treatment by the alien's country of nationality- does not apply to refugees. This notion does not apply to refugees because refugees do not enjoy the protection of their home state.[10]

Innocence of refugees unlawfully entering the country of refuge

The principle of non-refoulement

A refugee's right to be protected against forcible return, or refoulement, is set out in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees:

"No Contracting State shall expel or return ('refouler') a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social or political opinion" (Article 33(1)).[10]

It is widely accepted that the prohibition of forcible return is part of customary international law. This means that even States that are not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention must respect the principle of non-refoulement.[10] Therefore, States are obligated under the Convention and under customary international law to respect the principle of non-refoulement. If and when this principle is threatened, UNHCR can respond by intervening with relevant authorities, and if it deems necessary, will inform the public.[10]

Application Today

The rights promulgated by the Convention generally still stand today. Some have argued that the complex nature of 21st century refugee relationships calls for a new treaty, that recognizes the evolving nature of the nation-state and modern warfare.[11] Nevertheless, ideas like the principle of non-refoulement are still applied today, with the 1951 Convention being the hallmark of such rights.

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Chapter V – Refugees and Stateless Persons".  
  2. ^ Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Article 5.
  3. ^ "Treaty Series - Treaties and international agreements registered or filed and recorded with the Secretariat of the United Nations" (PDF) 606 (8791).  
  4. ^ UNHCR: 1951 to Today
  5. ^ "Chapter V – Refugees and Stateless Persons".  
  6. ^ States Parties to the Convention and ProtocolUNHCR: , retrieved 15 July 2010
  7. ^ "Nauru signs UN refugee convention".  
  8. ^ "Nauru's UN move on refugee convention adds to pressure on Labor", The Australian, 17 June 2011
  9. ^ United Nations High Commission for Refugees. (2012). Text of Convention. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Refugee protection: A Guide to International Refugee LawUNHCR: , 2001, ISBN 92-9142-101-4, retrieved 19 August 2015
  11. ^

External links

  • Full text of the Convention (UNHCR)
  • Introductory note by Guy S. Goodwin-Gill, procedural history note and audiovisual material on the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees in the Historic Archives of the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law
  • Lectures by Guy S. Goodwin-Gill entitled International Migration Law – A General Introduction and Forced Migration – The Evolution of International Refugee Law and Organization in the Lecture Series of the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law