Review of definitions

– Migrant – a person who moves from one place to another

– Refugee – a person fleeing persecution or fear of persecution on one of 5 protected grounds. 

– Asylum seeker – a refugee seeking protection from within the United States

 5 protected grounds: race, nationality, religion, political opinion, social group

not protected: climate disasters, civil wars, poverty

The history of asylum

– 1951: there was a UN Convention in Geneva to take care of refugees from WW2

– 1967: This was protocolized to expand to all people that would meet refugee status

– 1980: Codified into US law but also allows for quotas to be set by the US government

Asylum legislation around the world


– You must apply for asylum within 12 months of arriving to the country

– Your case will be reviewed by an immigration agent who may decide to send you to court

– No legal representation is guaranteed in court

– Asylum seekers can apply for work permits 150 days after applying for asylum

– Other special statuses:

– Temporary Protected Status: due to a conflict or environmental disaster that makes it unsafe for people from certain countries to return, they are given limited rights to stay in the US and work but there is no path to citizenship. Right now nationalities included are El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan

– DACA: people who were brought to the US as children before 2007 without immigration status can be given work authorization. But there is no pathway to citizenship. 

– Deferred Enforced Departure: Due to a conflict or political issue that makes it unsafe for people from certain countries to return, you cannot be deported but are not granted other rights or pathway to citizenship. Currently in place for individuals from Liberia, Palestine, and Hong Kong


– Asylum seekers mostly have to apply in their first country of arrival

– They are immediately given temporary protected status and are expected to be provided with clothing and food for “dignified status of living”

– The EU passed a bill on 4/10/24 that will force all member states to either take asylum seekers or contribute financially, while also creating border facilities to rapidly deport individuals who are deemed not likely to qualify for asylum


– The UK is not part of the EU, and has a similar application process to the US where you apply, have two interviews to determine if you qualify, and can appeal

– The UK is considering sending asylum seekers to Rwanda


– You can either apply by having a visa and flying into Australia and applying on arrival, or arriving by boat without a visa and applying on arrival

– If you do the latter, you can be taken to an offshore processing center. There used to be a center on the island of Nauru which had many human rights violations. 

How can you get involved?

– Asylum applications in the US that have a medical affidavit are much more likely to be approved in court

– Get trained in asylum applications. Sinai and Cornell hold in person trainings in the fall. Physicians for Human Rights has a free training online at

– Volunteer. You can reach out to Physicians for Human Rights, or keep it simple by reaching out to Libertas or the Mount Sinai Human Rights Program

May 2024