Refugees and Asylum

Key terms on refugees and asylum. For more terms, please see the Key Terms page.

Refugee: The 1951 Convention Related to the Status of Refugees provides the legal status of refugee to an individual who has left their country of origin and is unable or unwilling to return due to a fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, social group, or political opinion. (See key concepts for expanded categories and characteristics.)

Persecution: A type of harm that is central to applications for asylum. The term is not defined in the U.S. asylum statute. However, it has been defined by U.S. courts to mean “a threat to the life or freedom of, or the infliction of suffering or harm upon, those who differ in a way regarded as offensive.” Generally, such severe forms of harm as imprisonment, torture, and rape as well as death threats are thought of as constituting persecution. Whether less serious actions, such as those thought of as harassment or discrimination, should be considered persecution is decided on a case-by-case basis. To prevail on their applications, asylum-seekers are generally required to prove that they have a “well-founded”, or reasonable, chance of suffering persecution if they are forced to return to their home country.

Particular Social Group (PSG): One of the five grounds for claiming asylum from persecution. The PSG category is broadly defined as a group of people who share a common background or identity that a government views as a threat. The PSG category may include tribal groups, ethnic groups, individuals of a particular social class, etc.

Principle of Non-Refoulement: An international legal principle prohibiting States from forcibly "extradite, deport, expel or otherwise return a person to a country where his or her life or freedom would be threatened, or where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would risk being subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, or would be in danger of being subjected to enforced disappearance, or of suffering another irreparable harm." (IOM 2023)