1.1 What is Refugee Resettlement?


This section aims to define terms such as ‘refugee’, ‘internally displaced person’, ‘asylum seeker’, and ‘migrant.’ While there are similarities between the terms, resettlement is generally only available to refugees. It also aims to provide basic insights into the global context for refugee resettlement, as well as what ‘durable solutions’ exist for refugees experiences.





Defining Terms


Source: UNHCR YouTube ‘Who is a Refugee?

Who is a Refugee?

Since terminology related to refugees is connected to many legal, regulatory, and informal interpretations, for the purpose of this online learning resource, the term ‘refugee’ refers to individuals who meet the definition according to the 1951 Refugee Convention Relating to the Status of Refugee [Convention].

It can be broken down like this:

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 their nationality and
is unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country; 


who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of their former habitual residence
as a result of such events, 
is unable or unwilling to return to it

and who is not otherwise excluded from refugee status.

Other Key Definitions

Who is a migrant?
There is no universally accepted definition of the term ‘migrant’. It is usually understood to describe someone who chooses to move, not because of a direct threat of persecution or death, but to improve his or her conditions by finding work or education seeking family reunions, or for other reasons. Unlike refugees, migrants continue to enjoy the protection of their own government even when abroad, and if they return, they will continue to receive that protection. Unless they express a fear of persecution for one of the reasons set out in the 1951 Convention or regional refugee definitions, they are not entitled to benefit from protection as refugees. Migrants, like refugees, are protected under international human rights law.

Source: UNHCR YouTube ‘What is the difference between a migrant and a refugee?’

Who is an asylum-seeker?
An individual who is seeking international protection. In countries with individualized procedures, an asylum-seeker is someone whose claim has not yet been finally decided on by the country in which they have submitted that claim. It can also refer to someone who has not yet submitted an application but may be in need of international protection. Not every asylum-seeker will ultimately be recognized as a refugee, but every refugee in such a country is initially an asylum-seeker. 

Who is an internally displaced person?
A person who has been forced or obliged to flee from their home or place of habitual residence, “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.” 

Who is stateless?
A person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law, either because they never had a nationality or because they lost it without acquiring a new one. 



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The Global Context for Refugee Resettlement


A Global Crisis

No one is a refugee by choice. Many refugees do not want to leave their homes and the lives they know unless they must. Refugees may have had comfortable lives in their home countries before being forced to leave. They may have fled with very few belongings, especially if the situation to leave was urgent. They may or may not have fled with their families. Some may have experienced serious loss. Some may have witnessed war and terrible crimes, including torture, death threats and bombings. Finally, many may have taken perilous journeys by land or sea to arrive in the host countries.

Source: UNHCR YouTube ‘A Global Refugee Crisis – 2017


The following statistics are provided live from the UNHCR website:

Refugees’ Rights and Obligations

The 1951 Refugee Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees [Convention] and its associated 1967 Protocol Relating to the Rights of Refugees [Protocol] set out the rights of refugees and the obligations of signatory states to provide them with protection. 142 states are signatories to both the Convention  and the Protocol. The cornerstone of the Convention is the principle of non-refoulement (Article 33), which clarifies that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to life or freedom.

Other rights contained in the 1951 Convention include:

  • The right not to be expelled, except under certain, strictly defined conditions (Article 32);
  • The right not to be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a contracting State (Article31);
  • The right to work (Articles 17 to 19);
  • The right to housing (Article 21);
  • The right to education (Article 22);
  • The right to public relief and assistance (Article 23);
  • The right to freedom of religion (Article 4);
  • The right to access the courts (Article 16);
  • The right to freedom of movement within the territory (Article 26); and
  • The right to be issued identity and travel documents (Articles 27 and 28). 


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Durable Solutions


Once a person’s refugee status has been determined and immediate protection needs are addressed, they may need support to find a long-term, durable solution. UNHCR promotes three durable solutions for refugees as part of its core mandate:

  1. voluntary repatriation
  2. local integration
  3. resettlement

Voluntary Repatriation:

Free and informed return of refugees to their country of origin in safety and dignity.
May be organized by states and/or UNHCR, or spontaneous (i.e. refugees return by their own means); UNHCR, the country of origin, and the international community, strive to facilitate the decision to return through ‘go-and-see’ visits, education, legal aid, and family reunification.

Local Integration:

Integration of refugees within the host community.
This complex and gradual process is for refugees who cannot return to their country of origin due to continued conflict, wars, and persecution. The benefits of this approach include refugees being able to contribute socially and economically. The process is often concluded with the naturalization of the refugee.


The selection and transfer of refugees from a state in which they have sought protection to one that has agreed to admit them as refugees with permanent residence status.
For refugees who cannot return to their country of origin due to continued conflict, war, or persecution. Resettlement ensures protection and provides access to rights similar to those of nationals. This Includes the opportunity to eventually become a naturalized citizen of the resettlement country. Less than one percent of refugees within UNHCR’s mandate are submitted for resettlement.

A Global Approach to Refugee Protection

A global approach to refugee protection that includes all three solutions and close cooperation among countries of origin, host states, humanitarian and development actors, as well as refugees can offer the best pathway to restoring normalcy and stability in refugee lives.

As you go through this online learning resource and the sponsorship experience, you may find it useful to keep this module in mind. The global scale of challenges facing refugees can be overwhelming, but more and more countries have begun to offer their citizens and residents an opportunity to contribute in direct and meaningful ways: community sponsorship.



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