Refugee,Migrant, Asylum seeker… Are they same?

Normally people think these three words mean the same. Is it the case? There is a difference between these words. Let me unearth. Owing to the present refugee crisis scenario, one must be clear regarding these terms. We must probe deeper into these so that they receive proper help according to their need. Each of these terms has different international obligations and consequences.


A displaced person, who has crossed the national boundary in order to flee armed conflict or persecution involuntarily and needs international protection because of perilous situations in his country. The term refugee derives from the root word refuge from Old French refuge meaning ‘hiding place’ .

It refers to ‘shelter or protection from danger or distress’,  from Latin figure, ‘to flee’ and refugium ‘of taking refuge’. It is not the only shelter that they seek but safety as well. These people can’t make both ends meet as people think that they are terrorists. They may or may not pose a threat to the nation.


They are therefore protected under international law by the UN 1951 REFUGEE CONVENTION, the basic principle of which is refugees should not be returned to the place where his freedom and security is threatened. The UN Refugee Agency(UNHCR) calculates that there are 60 million displaced people, including the ones displaced within their own countries.


A migrant is someone who voluntarily moves from one country to another for a better life(economic migrants). The International Organisation of Migrants estimates that 232 million people become international migrants and 740 million people move within their own countries. But there are international students, moving for family reasons, escaping war crisis, and persecution. It is possible owing to the Syrian war crisis those who want a better life for their family.


“Migrant” covers the people who move to a new place for a short period, then return to their native place. In the past, the term “immigrant” intended people who settle in a new country. The “migrant population” describes foreign nationals resident in a country including foreign-born residents if they have become citizens.

Asylum seeker

an asylum seeker is the one whose ‘request for sanctuary is yet to be processed’ according to UNHCR. An asylum seeker is a person who has fled his own country, to escape perilous situations in his country.

He/She applies for shelter in a different under his right to international security. He can be a refugee, a displaced person or a migrant, such as an economic migrant.

He may be given refugee status if he satisfies the definition of a refugee under UN 1951 REFUGEE CONVENTION or other refugee laws, such as THE EUROPEAN CONVENTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS– if asylum is claimed within the European Union.


People often confuse between refugees and asylum seekers. An asylum seeker claims he/she is a refugee, but people don’t evaluate the claim appropriately. On average, about 1 million people seek asylum every year.

The refugee convention ensures that they get access to fair and efficient asylum procedures. The convention also takes measures to ensure that they live safely, with dignity while the officials verify and process the applications.

Thus, these three terms do not represent the three sides of an equilateral triangle. They are different people with varying needs which need attention before it’s too late. It’s a question of survival and the world must join hands to save these people meet their needs.

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