Seeking Safety: Why protecting the right to asylum has never been more important?

100 million people have been forced to flee because of war, violence, persecution, and human rights abuses. That’s 1 in every 78 people on the planet.  


We’ve reached a terrifying milestone, and as the number of people forced to flee continues to climb, we must do more to support displaced peoples across the world.  

People all over the world are making the hardest decisions of their lives today – to leave their homes in hope of finding a safer, better life. Some might cross borders in search of safety, others might experience displacement within their own country. 

The right to seek safety 

It is not illegal to seek asylum in Australia or elsewhere. To seek asylum is a basic and fundamental human right. Every person has the right to seek safety – whoever they are, wherever they are and whenever they are forced to flee.  

The right to seek safety is enshrined under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states ‘everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’.  

All people fleeing war, conflict or repression have a right to cross borders to seek asylum, but refugees from Africa, Asia and the Middle East are routinely refused access to relief, aid, and asylum, sometimes being placed in detention centres, despite facing persecution in their own countries. In Ukraine, people of colour have experienced widespread racism, and discrimination as they tried to seek safety.  

Those who are fleeing violence and seeking protection should be treated equally, no matter where they are from. 

What is the difference between refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people?  

Refugee: A refugee is an individual who has been granted asylum. Refugees are forced to flee their country and cross an international border due to conflict, war, violence or a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.  

Asylum Seeker: An asylum seeker is a person who is seeking protection as a refugee in another country but has yet to have their refugee status assessed or processed.  

Internally Displaced People: People who are forced to flee within their own country due to conflict or disaster are classified as Internally Displaced People.  

Which countries host the most refugees?  

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), prior to the Ukraine war, 83% of refugees were hosted by countries with the fewest resources – those in the global south. Four countries have the highest number of refugees – around one third of the global total: Turkey, Colombia, Uganda and Pakistan. 

Countries in the Global North like Australia must urgently provide resources and adopt policy measures to address the forced displacement and refugee crises around the world.  

How is ActionAid supporting women and girls forced to flee?  

Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh  

ActionAid’s largest refugee programme is in Bangladesh, where we support over 380,000 of the 925,000 Rohingya refugees forcibly displaced from Myanmar in 2017, across 32 camps. Women and children make up more than 75% of the refugee population. They are particularly vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and gender-based violence in the camps.  

In the last two years, the Covid-19 pandemic has introduced a new array of challenges, including the impact of the virus on different socio-economic factors during the lockdown. 

Anowara making masks at her sewing machine

Anowara making masks at her sewing machine in Cox’s Bazar in August 2020.

In Cox’s Bazar, ActionAid has set up Women’s Safe Spaces – where women can attend livelihood trainings, receive hygiene kits, and access counselling and emotional support services. We’ve supported women like Anowara to build a livelihood and protect their families from COVID-19 by providing sewing trainings and mask making workshops at the Women Safe Spaces.  

Want to learn more about ActionAid’s work in Cox’s Bazar? Click here! 

Women and girls fleeing conflict in Ukraine 

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 21 February, ActionAid has been on the ground in neighbouring countries supporting refugees fleeing the conflict.  

We’ve partnered with 23 local organisations to support over 100,000 women refugees and provide protection from human trafficking, exploitation, and gender-based violence in Romania, Moldova, and Poland.  

Internal Displacement in Somaliland 

Severe drought, chronic water shortages and rising food prices due to the war in Ukraine has made communities in parts of Somaliland unliveable, forcing families to leave their homes in search of food and water. This is the situation for most families in Giro-Sumo IDP (Internally Displaced People) Camp.  

Hinda is a 25 year-old pregnant mother of 4 living in Giro-Sumo IDP camp, Somaliland

Hinda Hersi Hussain, a pregnant mother of four, was forced to flee to the Giro-Sumo IDP camp because of the drought. Before the drought, Hinda and her family were successful pastoralists with a sizeable herd. The sudden change in surroundings and circumstances has proved extremely difficult for Hinda.   

We are providing emergency food and helping to build resilience in local communities by growing fruit and vegetable gardens and adopting sustainable agriculture. 

More than 27,998 households have received life-saving cash assistance in Togdheer, Sanaag and Sool regions in the past couple of months. 

As East Africa faces its worst food crisis in decades, support us to scale up our emergency response by donating to ActionAid’s Horn of Africa food crisis appeal today.