Legal protection of refugees in public international law 149
Thus it is no longer necessary that the acts of persecution that justify the
application of the Convention to have taken place before 1951. 4
However, its scope remains limited in terms of people who may apply for
refugee status: the Convention is based on the concept of refugee in its strictly legal
sense5, leaving out large groups of persecuted people such as war refugees, outside
the scope of the treaty.6
Art. 1 A pt. 2 of the Geneva Convention begins from the term of “refugee”
based on four characteristic elements: 7
First of all, the asylum seeker should be
outside his or her state of origin. 8 He or she cannot ask the protection of the state of
origin because justified fear of being persecuted. 9
Also the feared persecution must occur for reasons of race, religion, nationality,
membership to a particular social group or sharing a certain political opinion10.
In case of stateless persons a justified fear should be related to a possible
persecution occurring in the state of habitual residence.
Based on this definition, the term of refugee delineates from other legal notions
and concepts of the right to asylum, such as that of the asylum seeker and that of the
economic migrant. The asylum seekers are those participants to the asylum
procedure, who have already submitted an application for recognition of their
status as asylum seekers. 11
From this perspective the asylum seeker status can be viewed as a preliminary
stage before obtaining the refugee status.
In the case of economic migrants, these leave their state of origin from
economic reasons such as poverty or unemployment. The Right of Refugees does not
refer to this latter category.
Although debated and concluded as an international public law treaty by
sovereign states in part, the relevance of the Geneva Convention is also reflected in
European Union law12.
4 See S. Goodwin-Gill, J. McAdam, The Refugee in the International Law, 3rd ed., Oxford, 2014,
5 See W. Kälin, J. Künzli, Universeller Menschenrechtsschutz, der Schutz des Individuums auf
globaler und regionaler Ebene, 3. Aufl., Basel, 2013, 1490.
6 See J. C. Hathaway, M. Foster, The Law of Refugee Status, Cambridge, 2014, p. 91; J. Vedsted-
Hansen,Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Migrant Workers, Turku, 2012, p. 333.
7 See S. Goodwin-Gill, J. McAdam, The Refugee in the International Law, 3rd ed., Oxford, 2014,
8 See A. Epiney et al., Die Anerkennung als Flüchtling im europäischen und schweizerischen
Recht, ein Vergleich unter Berücksichtigung des völkerrechtlichen Rahmens, in: Freiburger Schriften
zum Europarecht Nr. 4, Freiburg im Üechtland, 2008, p. 7.
9 See Art. 1 A Cif. 2, of 1951 Geneva Convention.
10 See J. C. Hathaway, M. Foster, The Law of Refugee Status, Cambridge, 2014, p. 391; W. Kälin,
J. Künzli, Universeller Menschenrechtsschutz, der Schutz des Individuums auf globaler und
regionaler Ebene, 3. Aufl., Basel, 2013, 1484.
11 See J. Vedsted-Hansen,Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Migrant Workers, Turku, 2012, p. 335.
12 See M. Kotzur, Commentary to Art. 78 TFUE, in: R. Geiger et al., European Union Treaties,
A Commentary, München, 2015, N 2.