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

108.4 million people have been forced to flee because of war, violence, persecution, and human rights abuses. This is a terrifying milestone, and as the number of people forced to flee continues to climb, we must do more to support people forced to flee their homes. 


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.

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.  

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.  

Women like Anowara have attended livelihood trainings that build on their skills and provide them with the resources to start their own businesses. During COVID-19, Anowara attended sewing and mask making workshops at the ActionAid-run women friendly spaces, and started a business selling masks in her community.  

Want to learn more about the women behind the masks in Cox’s Bazar? Click here! 

Women and girls fleeing conflict in Ukraine 

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 21 February 2022, ActionAid has been on the ground in neighbouring countries supporting displaced people and refugees fleeing the conflict. We’ve partnered with 40 women-and youth-led organisations to support over 1.1 million people impacted by the invasion. 

Veronika was forced to leave her home in Kharkiv as a result of the conflict, and flee to Lviv. In Lviv, Veronika was introduced to Insight, an ActionAid partner, and began volunteering. She now supports other women who have been displaced.

“Every day I communicate with women, I talk with them, I listen to them, and I understand how difficult it is for them. I am here, and I am helping. It inspires me every day. I know that we are something more. Not just a woman who has to raise a child and cook at home for my husband’s meals. I am a woman who can help, who wants to help, who wants to be involved,”

Want to read more about Veronika’s story? Click here! 

Every person has the right to seek safety – whoever they are, whenever they are forced to flee and wherever they are.