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Convention relating to the
Status of Refugees
Geneva, 1951

Protocol relating to the
Status of Refugees
New York, 1967
Core Treaties  
Treaties you might not expect  


  After World War II, UN member countries became acutely aware of the problems of refugees, and especially the need to guarantee respect for refugees' basic rights. The Convention and the Protocol are the most comprehensive international treaties covering the legal status of refugees that have ever been adopted. They detail the minimum humanitarian standards for the treatment of refugees, strengthen international cooperation and solidarity on behalf of refugees, and depoliticize the granting of asylum. While the Convention's definition of "refugee" is limited by time and geography (the latter being optional), the Protocol removes those limitations. The Protocol is an independent international treaty, but also an integral part of the Convention. The fact that the majority of UN member countries are parties to both the Convention and the Protocol shows how universal these two treaties are.

Key Provisions

  The Convention defines refugees as people who are outside their country of origin (or their habitual residence, in the case of stateless people) and who, due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for race, religion, nationality, a group membership or political opinion, cannot or will not avail themselves of the protection to which they are entitled. The Convention explains when a person is no longer a refugee, and notes that people who have committed crimes against peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious non-political crimes outside the country of refuge cannot be considered refugees.

  The Convention also details the rights and obligations of refugees, including that refugees should:

  • not be expelled or returned to territory where their life or freedom would be threatened
  • not be penalized for illegally entering or being in the country where they seek asylum
  • not be expelled, except in exceptional circumstances to protect national security and public order; and
  • be obliged to conform to the laws and regulations of the country in which they find themselves, including measures taken to maintain public order.

  The Convention sets out the standards for the economic and social rights of refugees. Furthermore, it prohibits discrimination against refugees on the basis of race, religion or country of origin.

  Countries party to the convention commit to cooperating with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help that office in its duty to supervise compliance with the terms of the Convention and its Protocol. One of UNHCR's core functions is to give refugees (among others) international protection by promoting the conclusion and ratification of international treaties for their protection, and by supervising compliance with those treaties.

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