The Right to Seek Asylum

When home is not safe

Imagine that you wake up to the sound of a bomb hitting your neighbour’s house. That you, your family or your friends have been arrested and tortured for no reason. That you have been forced to marry a man twenty years older than you, who beats and mistreats you every day. Or that you haven’t been able to eat for three days, because there is no food at the market. What do you do?

When your home is not safe, when you fear for your life every day and there is no hope for a stable, peaceful life for you and your family, there is only one thing you can do.

You leave.

The right to seek asylum

But where do you go? Sometimes it is not enough to leave your home, you also have to leave your country to find a place where you can be safe. If you’re not safe in your own country, you have the right to go to another country and ask for protection as a refugee.

"Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”. – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14

The right to seek asylum is there to make sure that when someone’s basic human rights are violated in one place, they have the opportunity to go somewhere else where they will be free from violence and threats. Most people don’t want to leave their homes, but the right to seek asylum is there to make sure that when they have to, they can go somewhere safe.


Source: UNHCR

It does not mean that they automatically get the right to live in another country – it is up to each country to decide how many refugees they will accept, but most countries accept refugees who can demonstrate that their lives are in danger in their home countries.

But this means that even though everyone has the right to seek asylum, it does not mean that everyone has the right to get asylum.

The dangers of seeking asylum

Even though it is a human right to be able to seek asylum, many of those fleeing never get to seek asylum in a safe country, or have to risk their lives in getting there. As Lindis Hurum explains in the video, refugees are often forced to take an incredibly risky journey across the sea to reach safe countries. Refugees from Libya, or refugees from other parts of Africa who have ended up in Libya and now need to escape the terrible conditions there, have little other choice than to risk crossing the sea. Refugees from countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, who typically travel through Turkey rather than Libya, face the exact same risk when trying to reach Greece.

Since 2014, over 12 000 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. But for many refugees, their situation is so desperate that this journey is their only hope – so they do it despite the risks.

Watch: Why don’t the refugees use safer travel options?

Extreme vulnerability

Refugees are some of the most vulnerable people in the world – they have left everything they own behind and they have to travel through places where they do not speak the language or know. They are often at the mercy of people smugglers, who often abuse them and take the last of their money. They have no sure way of getting food, water or medical help. Both for those on the run or those stuck in refugee camps, there are no-one who makes sure that their basic human rights are fulfilled, and they are often dependent on international organisations for help.

A child who lost her mother a few hours earlier, on the deck of the Bourbon Argos, one of three rescue ships MSF operates in the Mediterranean. Photo: With permission from MSF Norway.

Many refugees do not make it to a safe country; they are often stuck in big refugee camps just across the border to a neighbouring countries. They often remain in these camps for years, and the camps often lack enough shelter, food, water and medical services for everyone. The world’s biggest refugee camp, Daadab in Kenya, is home to over 350,000 people, mostly refugees from Somalia. The camp – which has a population bigger than Bergen, the second largest city in Norway –has for the last few years been facing unceasing threats of closure, so the refugees stuck Daadab are living in a state of constant insecurity.

What can you do?

Worldwide, over 65 million people have been forced to leave their home. This includes refugees seeking protection in another country and 37 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) – people who are on the run in their own country. Refugees will exist as long as we still have conflict, poverty and discrimination, so the right to seek asylum will be of importance to millions of people for the foreseeable future. This is what you can do to help those

  • Donate to, support or raise funds for organisations working with refugees, making sure that those who have to flee their home have food, water, shelter and access to medical help (MSF, ICRC, UNHCR, Norwegian Refugee Council)
  • Be aware of how you and others talk about refugees. When you discuss if, how and how many refugees should be accepted into your country, be courageous enough to speak up and say you are talking about people just like you and me trying to get a better life.
  • If you have refugees in your country: talk to them!


Tip: Why not do a day with the theme of refugee’s rights and do both of these activities in succession?

To flee from home (age 11):  An activity that inspires reflection of what ‘home’ means and what it feels like having to flee from home, creating an understanding why refugees need the right to seek asylum. Requires the UNICEF video “Mustafa goes for a walk” and the Kompaz video on refugees (unless you’re planning to run the “refugee simulation” activity in the same programme).

Refugee Simulation (ages 11-15): An activity simulating many of the issues refugees face in the process of getting to a safe country and seeking asylum. Requires the Kompaz video on refugees and the Jargon Buster (print as many as you need).

(If you need the activity templates in the CISV format, they can be found here and here.)

Learn more:



  • Refugee: A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.
  • Internally Displaced Person: Someone who has been forced to leave their home, but not their country
  • Asylum: When a refugee is allowed to move into another country because their home country is not safe.
  • Asylum-seeker: Someone who says he or she is a refugee and is seeking asylum in another country, but whose claim has not yet been definitively evaluated.
  • Refugee camp: (Supposedly) Temporary settlement where refugees live while they wait to find a new home. Refugee camps often lack basic services such as schools, sanitation and medical facilities, and many refugees live in refugee camps for many years, sometimes their whole lives.
  • People smugglers: A person who is engaged in the illegal transportation of people from one country to another. They often exploit refugees and migrants, who are desperate to get to another country, by demanding extremely high prices or even robbing and abusing the people they are transporting.