Lesson plans for ages 15-18 in Human Rights and Refugees: The Right to Asylum


A UNHCR staff member talks to Diña who could not get to the local hospital to give birth because she lacked the necessary documentation.   © UNHCR/X.Creach

LESSONS 1 and 2: Asylum


Have ready a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, prepared on an overhead transparency.

Make copies of Chapter 2, "Safeguarding asylum", from The State of the World's Refugees: Human Displacement in the New Millennium.


Ask the students to give their ideas on what is asylum. Some may describe an institution for mentally ill or handicapped people. Do not reject this idea, but use it to probe the deeper meaning of the notion - refuge, safety, protection from persecution.


Distribute a copy of the following paragraph, taken from The State of the World's Refugees: The Challenge of Protection (Geneva, UNHCR, 1993), page 6:

The process of becoming a refugee is not instantaneous. It proceeds through the often slow growth of root causes to the sometimes quite sudden flash of an immediate catalyst that generates actual flight. Asylum follows when another state grants those in flight access to its territory and extends protection to them. Finally, for the more fortunate, a permanent resolution of their status is sought and found, and they cease to be refugees.

Ask the students: What does the underlined sentence suggest that the right to asylum might mean?

The right to seek asylum is found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14, which states that:

  • Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
  • This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Hand out copies of Chapter 2, "Safeguarding asylum", from The State of the World's Refugees: Human Displacement in the New Millennium and ask the students to read it quietly by themselves and to write answers to the following questions:

Comprehension and discussion questions

  • More than two thirds of the world's refugees are to be found in developing countries. List the reasons why these states are concerned with the pressure placed upon them by the prolonged presence of large refugee populations.
  • Why are asylum seekers in industrialised states perceived negatively?
  • What is non-refoulement?
  • What are the various methods employed to obstruct or deter the arrival of people seeking international protection?
  • Describe possible situations which may cause asylum seekers to resort to the use of false or altered documents, and engage the services of professional smugglers in order to make their escape?
  • Refugees and asylum seekers who are able to leave their own country and enter another state often find themselves in a vulnerable situation. Why?
  • How do registration and documentation help refugees and asylum seekers?
  • List the obstacles that asylum seekers may face as they try to obtain refugee status.
  • What restrictions to their human rights face displaced people in protracted refugee situations?
  • What tools are used by UNHCR to protect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers?