Refugee x Migrant

While the terms ‘refugee’ and ‘migrant’ may look similar, they have distinct meanings and confusing them can have serious consequences for the life and safety of refugees. UNHCR encourages people to differentiate between terms to maintain clarity about the causes and character of movements and to highlight obligations to refugees. Treating the two definitions as synonyms removes the focus of legal protections and the specific needs experienced by refugees.


They are people who are out of their country of origin because of well-founded fears of persecution related to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group, as well as serious and widespread violations of human rights and conflicts armed.

That is, people who were forced to leave their country because their lives and integrity were at risk, and they can not return to their country of origin because they do not have state protection. They have the international protection of the 1951 Refugee Convention, 1967 Protocol and the Cartagena Declaration. They are under the mandate of the UN Agency for Refugees (UNHCR). In Brazil, the implementation of  refugee protection is defined by the Law nº 9.474/97


Voluntary displacement looking for better quality of life, they can return to their country of origin without risks and they have the state protection. They do not have specific international protection, than they depend on the laws and internal processes of their country. In Brazil, the Law nº 13.445/2017 provides for the rights and duties of the migrant in national territory, among other measures.

There is no internationally accepted legal definition of the term migrant, so this group has the right to the general protection of human rights, regardless of immigration status.

How can States guarantee refugee protection?

The access to the procedure of requesting refuge is universal and does not depend on the prior demonstration of any evidence. Thus, it is the responsibility of States to receive requests for refuge, to listen to the applicants and to ensure that the decision-making process is fair and efficient. Refugees should not be expelled or returned to situations where their life and liberty are under threat. Denying refuge for these people can have serious consequences on their lives.

Are the rights of refugees and migrants the same?

In Brazil, both groups have the right to education, health and work. However, only refugees have a guarantee of travel documents, international protection against expulsion and extradition, and flexibility in the presentation of documents of the country of origin for local integration, such as facilitating the revalidation of diplomas.

If you prefer, watch the video about the difference between refugees and migrants: