Conflict, persecution and violence cause persons who lack protection from their national governments to flee their countries and become refugees. People who are forced to leave their country for fear of persecution on grounds specified in international conventions are, by definition, refugees.
A refugee is a person who, owing to a well-founded 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/her nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return home and avail himself/herself of the protection of that country. However, international protection is provided only after a refugee has been recognized by a host country. In the past, African and other governments in the South have granted asylum seekers refugee status automatically on the prima facie basis of their nationality. Today, it is increasingly common for asylum seekers to have their refugee status determined on an individual basis. This approach results in many rejections of otherwise legitimate claims because of procedural flaws, language barriers, and other concerns.
Legal aid, especially during the process of status determination, is a right of all refugees under international treaties. However, this right has been sorely neglected in the poorest regions of the world. One of the most essential and practical forms of assistance required by refugees is legal aid to develop and support their claims for asylum. Being granted refugee status is the first step towards refugees taking an active part in governing their own lives and determining their own futures. However, it is only the first step. Accessing their other rights, including health services, education and employment may also require legal assistance and involve policy research. In addition to legal aid, there is a need for psychosocial assistance as many have endured torture and/or are victims of sexual abuse. Children may also need help to overcome the trauma of separation from their families. Many refugees need assistance with family reunification.