difference between refugee and asylum seeker

The Difference Between Refugee And Asylum Seeker Explained

If you’re reading this article, chances are that you’ve probably heard the terms refugee and asylum seeker being used interchangeably. However, these two terms have distinct meanings and are differentiated based on the circumstances under which they leave their country of origin.

Definition of a Refugee

A refugee is an individual who has fled their country of origin due to war, persecution, or a well-founded fear of persecution. These individuals have been recognized as refugees under international law and are entitled to protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Definition of an Asylum Seeker

An asylum seeker is an individual who has fled their country of origin due to war or persecution but has not yet been recognized as a refugee by the country they have sought protection. Asylum seekers seek asylum in other countries, either at the border or after arriving in the country.

Main Differences Between Refugee and Asylum Seeker

The main differences between a refugee and an asylum seeker are:

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1. Legal Status: While refugees have been granted legal status and recognized under international law, asylum seekers are still waiting for their case to be processed, and their status is uncertain.

2. Recognition: Refugees have been officially recognized as ‘refugees’, while asylum seekers are still seeking official recognition of their refugee status.

3. Time: Refugees are those who have been given permission to remain indefinitely in a foreign country, while asylum seekers have to wait until their application is approved to be able to stay in the country.

4. Protection: Refugees are entitled to protection and rights under international law, while asylum seekers are often at risk of being sent back to their country of origin, where they face persecution.


While there are similarities between refugees and asylum seekers, there are significant differences in terms of their legal status, recognition, protection, and time. Refugees have already been recognized and granted asylum, whereas asylum seekers are still awaiting official recognition. Understanding the difference between the two is crucial in advocating for their rights and ensuring they get the necessary protection they need.

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Table difference between refugee and asylum seeker

Refugee Asylum Seeker
A person who has fled their home country and cannot return due to fear of persecution or war A person who has left their home country and seeks protection in another country, but their claim for protection is still being assessed
Has already received a status of protection and the right to reside in another country Has not yet been granted protection and may be subject to detention or deportation
Has the right to work and access to social services as a resident of the country of protection May not have the right to work and access to social services until their asylum claim has been approved
Usually has a clear sense of identity and a settled life in the country of protection May experience uncertainty and anxiety during the asylum process, and may not have a settled life until their claim is approved