Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that every person has the right to seek and enjoy protection from prosecution in other countries. This formed the basis of the 1951 Convention which further defines who can be a Refugee and what are the legal rights of a refugee.

The term Refugee is explained in Article 1 (A) (2) of the 1951 Convention. Definition of a refugee as per the 1951 Convention:

A.’’ For the present Convention, the term refugee shall apply to any person who:

(1) Has been considered a refugee under the Arrangements of 12 May 1926 and 30 June 1928 or under the Conventions of 28 October 1933 and 10 February 1938, the Protocol of 14 September 1939 or the Constitution of the Refugee Organisation;

Decisions of non-eligibility taken by the International Refugee Organisation during the period of its activities shall not prevent the status of refugee being accorded to persons who fulfill the conditions of paragraph 2 of this section;

What Legal Rights Do Refugees Have?

(2) As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

In the case of a person who has more than one nationality, the term ‘the country of his nationality’ shall mean each of the countries of which he is a national, and a person shall not be deemed to be lacking the protection of the country of his nationality if, without any valid reason based on well-founded fear, he has not availed himself of the protection of one of the countries of which he is a national.

‘’The highlight of this definition is a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, and due to being a member of a particular social group.‘’

These are the various legal rights of a refugee as per the 1951 convention –

•             Article 3 (Non-discrimination) – Article 3 of the 1951 convention states that all the provisions of the 1951 convention shall be applied to the refugees by a State irrespective of the refugee’s race, religion, or country of origin.

•             Article 4 (Religion) – Article 4 of the 1951 convention states that a refugee should be given the freedom to practice his religion and freedom regarding the practice of religious education of his children by the state if that freedom is already being enjoyed by the existing nationals of the state.

•             Article 12 (1) (Personal Status) – Article 12 (1) states that a refugee shall be governed by the law of his domicile country, that is his permanent residence and in case he has no domicile than by the law of the country in which he is presently residing.

•             Article 13 (Movable and Immovable Property) – Article 13 states that a refugee should be given equal rights in case of contract or purchase of movable or immovable property as that given to any other citizen who would come to reside in that state.

•             Article 14 (Artistic Rights and Industrial Property) – Article 14 states that in case of the invention, designs, trademarks, trade rights, rights related to art, literature, or science a refugee should be given the same rights as the nationals of that place or if the refugee falls under the different state territory then he should be given equal rights as those living in that state with the same habitual residence as his.

•             Article 15 (Right of Association) – Article 15 states that a non- profit organization or a non- political organization will have to give the same treatment and facilities to a refugee as they would have given it to any other foreign national.

•             Article 16 (Access to Courts) – Article 16 gives one of the most important rights to a refugee, that is the right to access the court, legal assistance, and exemption from bearing any legal cost, no matter in which state they reside.

•             Article 17 (Wage Earning Employment) – Article 17 states that a refugee must be provided with reasonable opportunities to earn his livelihood by the state as any other foreign national residing in that state. Also as per Article 17 (2), the restriction that a State imposes on foreigners for the protection of the national labor market will not be imposed on a refugee who has entered the state following the 1951 Convention or has been living in the country for three years, or has a spouse or one or more children with the nationality of the country of residence.

•             Article 18 (Self Employment) – Article 18 states that a refugee must be given equal rights as compared to other foreign nationals when they want to self-employ in the field of agriculture, handicraft, and commerce. 

•             Article 19 (Liberal Profession) – Article 19 states that if a refugee holds a valid degree of any of the liberal profession like Law, Medical, Accountancy, Dentist, and other and if the authorities of that state recognize the degree then refugees should be treated as favorably as any other alien would have been treated in the given scenario. 

This article covers the general provision, juridical status, and employment aspect as per the 1951 Convention.


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