The UN Refugee Convention and its definition of a refugee

The UN Refugee Convention was adopted in 1951. Denmark was the first country to sign and ratify it and since 144 countries have signed the convention. Originally, the convention was created in response to the Nazi exterminations of Jews and other minorities. The aim was to ensure that all people who faced persecution in their country of origin could seek protection in other countries.

The definition of a refugee according to the convention: 

“Any person who owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted 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”

- in other words: a person who is in danger in her/his country of origin and cannot receive protection from the country’s own authorities.

Therefore, all the signatory countries of the UN Refugee Convention should agree on this definition – but each country has its own procedure of how to evaluate it. However, a number of countries do not even have a proper procedure and many countries tolerate refugees without giving them rights. 

If the Danish authorities determine that an asylum seeker’s application falls within UN Refugee Convention’s definition of a refugee, then she/he will be granted asylum according to § 7,1 in the Immigration Law (Convention status) and can then apply for the blue convention passport.  

However, Denmark has requirements about the nature of risks to individuals, which is not a part of the UN Refugee Convention. UNHCR has several times critiqued Denmark for this practice, most recently in connection with the implementation of the new and temporary states § 7,3 ("Further, there is nothing in the text of the 1951 Convention to suggest that a refugee has to be singled out for persecution", UNHCR submitted to the Danish state nov. 2014). However, in Denmark an asylum seeker can be granted convention status due to sexual persecution, which is not mentioned in the UN Refugee Convention.

In addition, the UN Refugee Convention contains a number of provisions designed to ensure that refugees are treated equally and obtain real protection. Other conventions such as The European Convention of Human Rights, the UN Convention on Statelessness, and the UN Convention against Torture are also concerned with the rights of refugees.  

UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees): 
• Makes recommendations, interpretations and guidelines for the consideration of asylum cases

• Publishes country reports about the countries concerned and local issues, runs refugee camps around the world and resettles ‘quota refugees’ from these camps to resettlement countries. 

• Does not consider complaint- or appeal cases.