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What is the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker?

Updated on July 13, 2013

What is the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker?

The Oxford Dictionary states that a refugee is “a person taking refuge especially in foreign country from religious or political persecution or from war or earthquake etc.”

The same dictionary does not give a definition for asylum seeker. But Wiktionary online defines an asylum seeker as “Someone who flees their home country and seeks asylum in another, a refugee.”

According to the United Nations a refugee is a person who is outside their own country and is unable or unwilling to return due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or that person's political opinion.

It would seem then that these terms are interchangeable and certainly they are used that way by the media. However there is a difference between the two terms. A person is an asylum seeker until their request for refugee status has been approved. Then and only then can a person enjoy refugee status from the country that takes them in. Only then can they feel safe from whatever it is they are fleeing from.



There are millions of such people throughout the world, in Asia, Africa, Europe and America. Displaced by wars, rebellions, starvation, climate, ethnic cleansing and many other such appalling misfortunes.

Man's inhumanity to man beggars belief.

Climate Change

Refugees from climate change will increase over the next fifty years and probably become the major source of the problem. Perhaps not directly, but conflicts over the increasingly scarce resources of water, food and fuel will escalate human misery and therefore a rush to find refuge in a country that still has such resources. This may have already started. These folk are not mentioned in the United Nations definition. They are refugees and not asylum seekers as such.

Economic refugees

Other such are economic refugees who are much maligned in the country of their choice although economic migrants are usually welcomed.

The difference between the two is that the economic migrant has gone through procedures and authorities have found that that person can find a job and support themselves, they will not be a drain on the community, is not a criminal, and will fit in with society. An economic refugee has jumped the queue and arrived unasked with no checks.

Countries quite rightly protect their borders. That is the reason for passports and visas. As John Howard, a previous Prime Minister of Australia said a few years ago, ‘We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.’ A sensible statement. If a country did not then open slather would result.

People Smugglers

Millions live in poverty in squalid conditions in camps. They have got away from whatever was frightening them only to find that they and their families are still in trouble. It is hardly surprising asylum seekers are prey to people smugglers. Nor is it surprising these asylum seekers take great risks to try to get into a country where they can perhaps get refugee status even though they are jumping the queue and could get sent back.

Many try several times they are so desperate and/or determined , risking their lives under or hiding in trucks, in leaking boats or walking for miles and miles in blinding heat or freezing cold. Many die on the way.

People smugglers make their money from those in the worst possible situation, spinning tales of how easy it is to get to wherever that person wishes to go, if they pay the people smuggler thousands to get there.

Human Rights

The human rights of asylum seekers and refugees is very important indeed.

They are people, men, women and children. The genuine asylum seeker and refugee has just as much right to protection and help as anyone else who is in trouble.

Guilt Industry

Of course the Guilt Industry becomes involved playing on a nation’s conscience and good nature. A certain amount of this is good because mistakes can be made, but unbridled do gooders tend to not only distort the problem but make problems in other spheres that then arise.

The world must take control of the problem

Both of the human rights of the asylum seeker/refugees and their living conditions. The United Nations is the body for this, they already have some powers and a High Commissioner for Refugees. In many ways they do a good job as far as they can. They need to be empowered and financed by the world to do a better one, to be able to set up proper camps with sensible hygiene and living conditions. These to be set up in many parts of the world where these people can get to. The human rights of the asylum seeker/refugee should also be their responsibility. Countries where these people arrive should pass them on to the centres.

It is in these centres that the destiny of these poor people should be made. A world wide solution, not a solution for each individual country, although each country should still decided who is to reside in that country.

The current system does not work.


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