Article 1—Definition of the term 'Refugee' A(2) [Any person who]. . . owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable to or, owning to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence . . ., is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. (As amended by Article 1(2) of the 1967 Protocol)
Article 33—Prohibition of expulsion or return (refoulement) (1) No Contracting State shall expel or return (refouler) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was drawn up by the United Nations parallel to the creation of UNHCR. This Convention and the subsequent 1967 Protocol establishes international law for the definition of refugees as well as the protection accorded to them. It also articulates the important principle of non-refoulement (Box 1) which states that no refugee can be returned to his or her country of origin or any other location where there is any probability that he or she will be harmed. These legal definitions indicate that a refugee is not an economic migrant or a traditional immigrant. Sadruddin Aga Khan, in a seminal report, was one of the first High Commissioners to acknowledge the human rights violations that are primarily responsible for the generation of refugee populations. (4) Corresponding to these international covenants, the international community has focused on the protection of refugees. There are two components to protection that are classically viewed by UNHCR as an essential aspect of its mandate. These two elements include protection against:
1. ongoing violence and potential injury to the refugee including being denied proper asylum and involuntary repatriation;
2. lack of adequate food, water, clothing, and other forms of material assistance.
The UN Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in December 1948 and the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment adopted in December 1984 extends the basic principles of refugee protection and asylum, and reaffirms the principle of non-refoulement. In most refugee crises, notwithstanding the political and military barriers to protection, UNHCR and the international community strive to offer refugees a safe asylum and basic humanitarian aid.
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