In this blog article as I said in my earlier articles, I will try to clarify and define the concepts of “migrants”, “asylum seekers” and “refugees”.


Research studies cover a variety of categories of migrants, such as immigrants, student migrants, economic migrants, internally displaced persons, unaccompanied minors, refugees, sans-papiers (undocumented migrants) and asylum seekers.


It should also be noted that, countries define migrants in many different ways, such as by country of birth, nationality or duration of the stay (Rechel et al., 2012). The word “migrant” is generally used in the international context to define those people, who emigrate from their country of origin to another country without being subject to any coercion for the purpose of having better living conditions or family reunion.


In general understanding, individuals, who seek international protection are called asylum seekers. In other words, the term ‘asylum seeker’ refers to those who have applied for asylum and are awaiting a decision on their applications. The term ‘refugee’ is usually used for those who, having applied for asylum, have been given refugee status. There is a conceptual confusion between refugee and asylum seeker. An asylum seeker is someone who is looking for international protection but whose claim for refugee status has not yet been accepted


An asylum seeker is a person who is directly exposed to oppression or violence because of his/her race, religious belief, nationality or who faces a high risk and therefore tries to get a refugee status for having an international protection. It is known that, while the United Nations High Commission For Refugees (UNHCR) accords some legal rights to refugees with the Geneva Convention in 1951, the asylum seekers, who are not granted a refugee status, are deprived of these rights (Şimşek and Anık, 2018: 282-283). The Council of the European Union (EU) defines an “asylum seeker” as a “third country national or stateless person who has made an application for asylum in respect of which a decision has not been made.”


The Amnesty International draws the distinction between the terms “refugee” and “ asylum seeker” as the following:

“An asylum seeker is an individual who is seeking international protection. In countries with individualised procedures, an asylum seeker is someone whose claim has not yet been finally decided on by the country in which he or she has submitted it. Not every asylum seeker will ultimately be recognised as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum seeker. A refugee is a person who has fled their country of origin and is unable or unwilling to return because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” ( , Reached on Feb 29, 2020)


According to UNHCR the following reasons would be existent in order to become refugees according to the 1951 Convention definition:

  • persecution for reasons of nationality, membership of a particular group or political ideology.
  • persecution on the basis of sexual orientation or gender.
  • violence perpetrated by organized gangs, and other players against which the state is unable or unwilling to protect.
  • disasters where they are linked to situations of persecution or armed conflict.


The main distinction between refugees, economic migrants and asylum seekers is that asylum seekers and refugee people flee their homes with a fear of persecution, while economic migrants do not get afraid of persecution, even enjoy the protection of their governments, but simply want to have a higher standard of living.


Briefly, it can be said that, unlike immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees migrate because remaining in their own countries would pose a threat to their lives. In addition, because refugees and asylum seekers tend to be socioeconomically under bad conditions, they often have no choice but to stay in places where they are not welcome (Vernant, 1953)


Photo Credit: Alexander Draheim/Sea-Eye

P.S.My next piece will be about “cuisine and migration” (the role of food in migrants’ lives) and finally I will provide a detailed bibliography about migration literature.

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