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What is the Difference Between an Immigrant and a Refugee?

Difference Between an Immigrant and a RefugeeWhat is the difference between an immigrant and a refugee? The terms migrant and refugee are often used interchangeably despite the fact that there are definitive differences between the two.

A migrant is a person who consciously makes a choice to leave their homeland and seek a better life in another state. These individuals or families can take the time to learn about the country to which they intend on relocating and prepare themselves as much as possible for the journey. While the process varies from country to country, it usually involves screening, pre-departure training, and obtaining work permits. The process can take months, if not years, and migration has become more common in the last two centuries.

According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, a refugee is a person who “owing to a 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 to, or owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

This definition falls under international law, and therefore a refugee that arrives on foreign soil looking for safety and claiming refugee status cannot be deported immediately. Their case will be reviewed before there is a chance they are sent back their homeland, as it must be considered whether their safety is in jeopardy. This is a United Nations convention that was ratified by 144 countries.

Not all migrants are refugees, but sometimes refugees can fall under the category of a migrant. Knowing the difference between an immigrant and a refugee is especially important for international law and domestic law. Immigration policies and requirements typically only apply to the country that established them. Basically, they are different from country to country and are categorized under domestic law. For example, the application process for migrating into the United States is a different application process than applying to Japan.

However, a refugee is protected by international law, therefore, while legal documentation can be lacking, countries have an obligation to abide by these laws. Even the countries that didn’t ratify the convention are still expected to respect it because it falls under the protection of basic human rights.

There are still similarities between the two, which is why people might confuse them. In both cases, each party will have to either assimilate or find some way to adapt to life in a new country. They will face a shock in culture, the workforce and language. Entering a new country, whether by choice or due to persecution, will always be a frightening process.

Either way, despite the difference between an immigrant and a refugee, both groups deserve a chance at feeling a sense of security within their lives.

– Caysi Simpson

Photo: Flickr