In response to the massive flows of refugees unleashed by the Second World War, the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees is agreed upon at a special UN conference in Geneva in 1951, coming into force in 1954.
The goal of the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees was to provide people anywhere who had been forced to leave their home countries with legal recognition. In particular, the concept of refugee was defined in the Convention. According to this definition, a refugee and someone requiring protection is anyone who has left his or her country of origin for fear of persecution on the basis of “race”, religion, nationality, membership in a given social group, or political conviction and who thus seeks such protection from another state. These provisions applied initially only to people in Europe who had fled their home countries before 1951. With the broadening of the Convention through the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1967, these spatial and temporal limits were lifted and the Convention became universally applicable. The problem of refugees thus achieved recognition on a global level. 146 states are today party to the Protocol. It has in addition served as the model for the 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa and the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees in Latin America.
The UN Refugee Convention offers, among other things, protection from racist or religious persecution and guarantees refugees the right to be issued a passport as well as gain free access to the courts. It furthermore proscribes deportation and forced return. The Convention seeks to establish a uniform legal status for those denied diplomatic protection from their home countries. A state is nonetheless not obliged to grant asylum seekers residence, and even if enjoying residency rights, asylum seekers experience various forms of everyday discrimination. The reasons for fleeing one’s country of origin are furthermore of decisive importance in determining residency rights, as a compelling link between one’s flight and one’s fear of persecution there must be recognizable and substantiated. Flight for reasons relating to economic, social, or environment conditions is not recognized by the Convention. The Convention also does not apply to those fleeing civil war, as in such cases international humanitarian law applies.
Since the coming into force of the Dublin II Regulation in 2003 (See also: Dublin II Regulation, 2003) and the third-party state regulation implicit therein, it has become significantly more difficult for asylum seekers to enter Germany. They are now required to file their asylum claim in the first EU member state that they enter.