Can I Claim Refugee Status?

Many people living in countries with high crime, low employment or excessive violence would like to know if they can claim refugee status and leave their troubled countries behind. However, that's not exactly how refugee status works, and unless you meet some very specific criteria, you might be out of luck.

What Is a Refugee?

A refugee, or more accurately, a Convention refugee is someone who is a) outside of his or her home country, and b) has a "well founded fear" that they will be persecuted on protected grounds.

Being a victim of crime, or even from a war torn country does NOT automatically make someone eligible for refugee status, unless they can prove to immigration authorities that they meed these criteria.

 

What Is the Refugee Convention?

The Refugee Convention was an agreement that was created in 1951, after the Second World War, and ratified by 148 countries. It sets out the legal definition for refugees, what makes a person a refugee, and how refugees should be treated. The UNHCR or the UN Refugee Agency oversees the application of the Convention, and assists during refugee crises.

What Are Protected Grounds?

In order to become a refugee, you have to have a well founded fear that you will be persecuted on protected grounds. In other words, you must have some proof that if you were to remain in your home country, you would be subjected to violence, incarceration or other indignities as a result of your race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

Gender is not specifically mentioned, nor is sexual orientation, but these do fall within the bounds of membership of a particular social group.

A good example of someone who might be able to claim refugee status would be a homosexual person from a country that has outlawed homosexuality. Since their own government has made their sexual orientation illegal, they would have a "well founded" fear of persecution.

Economic factors like high unemployment or poverty do not make one eligible for refugee status either.

Tough to Prove

Many people feel that they are persecuted in their countries, for various different reasons, but it can be very difficult to prove that this is the case.

One group that has been particularly vocal in recent years are white Afrikaners from South Africa, however, in a country with some of the highest crime statistics in the world, with no official policies targeting this particular group, there's no clear evidence that they are any more at risk than any other group in the country. Their fears of violence may be well founded, but there is limited proof that they are being singled out.