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Who is a migrant?

Any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a State away from his/her habitual place of residence, regardless of (1) the person’s legal status; (2) whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary; (3) what the causes for the movement are; or (4) what the length of the stay is.

Migrant worker is a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national (article 2(1), International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, ICRMW, 1990).

Article 2 of the ICRMW also provides for different categories of migrant workers.

Migrant workers and members of their families:

    • Are considered as documented or in a regular situation if they are authorized to enter, to stay and to engage in a remunerated activity in the State of employment pursuant to the law of that State and to international agreements to which that State is a party;
    • Are considered as non-documented or in an irregular situation if they do not comply with the conditions provided for in subparagraph (a).

(Art. 5, ICRMW, 1990)

Child: means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier. (Article 1, Convention on the Rights of the Child, CRC, 1989)

  • Unaccompanied children (also called unaccompanied minors) are children, as defined in article 1 of the Convention, who have been separated from both parents and other relatives and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so.
  • Separated children are children, as defined in article 1 of the Convention, who have been separated from both parents, or from their previous legal or customary primary care-giver, but not necessarily from other relatives.  These may, therefore, include children accompanied by other adult family members.

(Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6: treatment of unaccompanied and separated children outside their country of origin, 2005)


Family reunion / family reunification: Process whereby family members separated through forced or voluntary migration regroup in a country other than the one of their origin.

Irregular migrant more broadly is a person who, owing to unauthorized entry, breach of a condition of entry, or the expiry of his or her visa, lacks legal status in a transit or host country. The definition covers inter alia those persons who have entered a transit or host country lawfully but have stayed for a longer period than authorized or subsequently taken up unauthorized employment (also called unauthorized/undocumented migrant or migrant in an irregular situation).

Use of the term “illegal,” either as an adjective or a noun, is problematic because it is inaccurate, carries a criminal connotation and denies migrants’ humanity. A person cannot be illegal. This is in accordance with international consensus and human rights law. “In light of the fact that irregular migration is not a crime and irregular migrants are not criminals per se, the use of the expression ‘illegal migrant’ should be avoided at all costs.” The UN General Assembly Resolution No. 3449 of 9 December 1975, “Measures to Ensure the Human Rights and Dignity of Migrant Workers,” recommended that stakeholders avoid using the term “illegal” to describe migrants in an irregular situation. As François Crépeau, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, wrote “using incorrect terminology that negatively depicts individuals as ‘illegal’ contributes to the negative discourses on migration, and further reinforces negative stereotypes against migrants. Moreover, such language legitimates a discourse of the criminalization of migration, which in turn, contributes to the further alienation, marginalization, discrimination and ill treatment of migrants on a daily basis.”



Who is a refugee?

A refugee is a person who meets the eligibility criteria under the applicable refugee definition, as provided for in international or regional refugee instruments, under UNHCR’s mandate, and/or in national legislation (Master Glossary of Terms, UNHCR, June 2006).

According to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of (1) race, (2) religion, (3) nationality, (4) membership of a particular social group or (5) political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

The 1969 AU Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa broadens the definition: Article 1 includes the 1951 Convention definition, while Article 2 states the following: “The term ‘refugee’ shall also apply to every person who, owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order in either part or the whole of his country of origin or nationality, is compelled to leave his place of habitual residence in order to seek refuge in another place outside his country of origin or nationality.”

Who are internally displaced persons (IDPs)?

Internal Displace Persons (IDPs) are persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border (African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, 23 October 2009; Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, UN Doc E/CN.4/1998/53/Add.2.).


Some organizations listed on the website provide services specifically for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and victims of human trafficking.

What is sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV)?

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) refers to any act that is perpetrated against a person’s will, that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to a person and is based on “their sex, gender identity, real or perceived sexual orientation or non-adherence to social norms around gender and sexuality”[1] as well as “on gender norms and unequal power relationships. It encompasses threats of violence and coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty whether occurring in public or in private life and can take the form of a denial of resources or access to services. It inflicts harm on women, girls, men and boys and is a severe violation of several human rights”.[2]

SGBV may be “perpetrated by anyone, including individuals from host communities, from refugee or IDP communities, and humanitarian actors. Persons in positions of authority (police, security officials, community leaders, teachers, employers, landlords, humanitarian workers) may abuse their power and commit SGBV against persons of concern. Changed social and gender roles or responsibilities, as well as the stresses of displacement, can cause or exacerbate tensions within the home, sometimes resulting in domestic violence. Some harmful customary or traditional behaviours may amount to SGBV: early marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), honour killing and maiming, forced abortion. During situations of armed conflict, sexual violence may be used as a weapon of war.”[3]

What is human trafficking?

“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation” (Art. 3(a), UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, 2000). Exploitation “shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”[4] The crime of trafficking in persons can take place within the borders of one State or may have a transnational character.


[1] Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Human Rights Council, A/HRC/31/57,

[2] UNHCR Emergency Handbook,

[3] UNHCR Emergency Handbook,

[4] See also UNODC,