Refugee Rights Law: The Building Blocks

When adopting a rights-based approach, it is crucial that the use of refugee and human rights law is central to your advocacy work. This section highlights the most important protections and provisions in international and regional bodies of law that may be most relevant to refugees.

You may use these protections and provisions to structure and support arguments for refugee rights in a number of ways, such as to:

  • support individual legal cases
  • structure trainings and community legal empowerment workshops or courses
  • support wider impact litigation at any level
  • support advocacy with governments and the UN system.

The Refugee Rights Law: Building Blocks section is divided into three sections. The Right to Seek Asylum highlights the most essential provisions in existing international and regional refugee rights instruments, including:

  • 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention)
  • OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (OAU Convention)
  • Cartagena Declaration.

Provisions highlighted include the definitions of a refugee, as well as specific situations where refugee status is excluded, cancelled or ceased. It also explains how one can utilize Country of Origin information to support your case.

Non-Refoulement: A Cornerstone highlights the principle that no one, including asylum seekers and refugees, can be sent back to where her life or freedom is threatened. This principle is explained with reference to the existing refugee and human rights instruments.

In addition to refugee law, refugees are also protected by a set of human rights law more broadly. The Human Rights of Refugees section highlights the relevant human rights laws one can turn to for stronger defense of refugees’ rights. Sections highlight existing human rights law relating to the freedom from penalties for illegal entry, freedom from arbitrary arrest, the right to work, education, health care, access to courts. Women’s rights and children’s rights are also outlined.

It should be noted that this section does not aim to be comprehensive or cover the entirety of laws that can be applied to refugees. Advocates should research these topics further with the help of the resources provided in order to maintain up-to-date and sound legal knowledge. In addition, although domestic law has not been covered in the toolkit, it is important to gain a strong understanding of the national legal framework. Advocates are also reminded to consider the legal hierarchies and the authority accorded to international and regional law in your jurisdiction. In jurisdiction where UNHCR takes on the role of the decision-making, domestic law might be of less relevance.

For further resources you may choose to refer to The Refugee Law Reader, available in English, Spanish, French and Russian, which provides a comprehensive curriculum on international and regional refugee law.

Further resources