Refugees and asylum seekers

Goa migrant children

Generally, under human rights instruments, rights are granted to all, and not only to nationals of States parties. Thus, States parties to relevant human rights treaties are obliged to progressively ensure all economic, cultural, and social rights —including the rights to social security and health— to all individuals within their territories, providing specific protection for disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals and groups.

Refugees and asylum seekers are a special category of non-nationals and require special protective measures due to their vulnerability. They should enjoy all rights on the same footing as citizens of the State concerned.

Additionally, States parties to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, with few exception, must accord to refugees the same treatment as is accorded to nationals in regard to social security guarantees (Article 24).

In its General Comment No. 14 on the right to health, the CESCR, for example, has noted that “States are under the obligation to respect the right to health by, inter alia, refraining from denying or limiting equal access for all persons, including prisoners or detainees, minorities, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, to preventive, curative and palliative health services.”


Photo credit: “Terre d’Espoir 8″ by Anne Roberts (CCBY 2.0 via Flickr).


Legal Instruments

Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951

Article 24: Labour legislation and social security 1. The Contracting States shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in their territory the same treatment as is accorded to nationals in respect of the following matters; (a) In so far as such matters are governed by laws or regulations or are subject to the control of administrative […]

Equality of Treatment (Social Security) Convention, 1962 (No. 118)

Convention No. 118 addresses the issue of the social security of migrant workers in a global manner. It covers the nine branches of social security and provides that, for each branch accepted under the Convention, a ratifying State undertake to grant equality of treatment to nationals of other ratifying States (and their dependents) with its […]

Legal Cases

Discriminatory, cruel and unusual treatment of refugees for provision of healthcare in Canada

The Federal Court reviewed the effects of changes to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) in relation to sections 7, 12 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, pertaining to the right to life, liberty and the security of the person, the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and equal of treatment […]

Social security for asylum seekers in the United Kingdom

Summary: In this case, the House of Lords listened to appeals by the Secretary of State for Home Department, who denied state support to destitute asylum applicants (“applicants”) on the grounds of not having applied for asylum “as soon as reasonably practicable”. The applicants cited a violation of Article 3 of the Convention for the […]


Handbook on social health protection for refugees: Approaches, lessons learned and practical tools to assess coverage options

The purpose of this handbook is to guide UNHCR public health and programme staff and ILO staff working on social protection at country level on the considerations and practical steps required to assess options for the inclusion of refugees in national social health protection schemes.

Pre-migration and post-migration factors associated with mental health in humanitarian migrants in Australia and the moderation eff ect of post-migration stressors: findings from the first wave data of the BNLA cohort study

Background The process of becoming a humanitarian migrant is potentially damaging to mental health. We examined the association between pre-migration and post-migration potentially traumatic events and stressors and mental health, and assessed the moderating eff ect of post-migration stressors in humanitarian migrants in Australia. Methods In this study, we used the first wave of data […]

Social Protection and Human Rights