Refugee and asylum seeker patient health toolkit

Who are refugees or asylum seekers?

Location: UK International
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Monday 4 September 2023
Topics: Ethics

The world is experiencing unprecedented high rates of global migration. The reasons for this are complex and include both positive and negative factors, such as opportunity and freedom as well as poverty and violence.

In recent years, long-term conflicts, climate change, disease outbreaks and food insecurity have led to an increase in the number of people forced to migrate under duress. In some situations, people who have fled their home country and cannot go back are able to apply for asylum in another country.

National and international law gives certain rights and protections to refugees and asylum seekers. However, many people have difficulty providing evidence to support their asylum claim.

This can be because they have fled without documents, such as passports, or made undocumented border crossings. They may also be reluctant to give full details of their experiences or be physically examined, as this can bring up experiences of trauma.

The ability to access good quality medical care, and to build trust with medical and other professionals, can be critical to gathering sufficient evidence to gain refugee status or other forms of international protection.


Refugee or asylum seeker?


A refugee is defined by the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees as someone who has fled beyond the borders of their country and is unable or unwilling to return owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

Asylum seeker

A person who has fled their country and made an application in another country to be recognised as a refugee under the 1951 Convention, but who has not yet been granted this status. In the UK, asylum seekers make an application to the Home Office.