Definition of "Refugee"
The Convention and the Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees define a refugee as a person who owing to wellfounded 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; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence . . . , is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
Human Rights Treaties, Declarations, and other Instruments
In addition to the Convention and Protocol there are a number of other relevant human rights treaties, declarations, and other instruments. For example, Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture provides that no government shall forcibly return a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
Institutions, Agencies, and Organizations
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the principal worldwide institution that protects and assists refugees. The UNHCR works with other intergovernmental agencies (for example, UNICEF in regard to child refugees) and many voluntary agencies (known as volags) in providing transportation, housing, food, clothing, education, and other assistance.
The UNHCR has estimated that there are about 20 million refugees and 30 million internally displaced persons in the world. Having ratified the Protocol on the Status of Refugees, the United States has conformed its statutory definition of refugees and asylees to the international definition as interpreted by the courts. Every year the U.S. generally accepts 75,000 to 100,000 refugees from abroad. In addition, a person who arrives in the United States as a tourist, student, or carrying another visa, or simply arrives at an airport or on the shore of the U.S. may seek asylum. Every year the U.S. gives permanent residence to10,000 asylum seekers. Refugees and asylees represent 10-20% of all immigrants to the United States.
Application for Asylum
In order to apply for asylum a person must demonstrate that they have a well-founded fear of persecution based upon their own experience and the experience of similar individuals. Hence, country condition information is very useful. Beginning in 1996 the U.S. established an abbreviated procedure in which immigration officials must assess whether the individual who seeks asylum at arrival has a "well-founded fear" of persecution. Many of such asylum seekers are detained while they are applying, and this procedure has been the subject of considerable criticism (link) and study (link).
There are many educational materials, journals, research efforts, and other resources on the subject of refugees and asylum seekers.