Let us start from the beginning. The term refugee and migrant have been present in the public
debate for a while now, but who are they actually?
The most ubiquitous definition of a refugee comes from the time when the world’s attentions was
focused on their plight following the catastrophic consequences of the Second World War. In 1951
the Refugee Convention was established with thousands of displaced Europeans in mind, and with its
focus much shifted to other regions of the world with the 1967 Protocol, as a legal document it
remains in force to this day.
The Refugee Convention states that a refugee is a person who “owing to well-founded fear of
being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or
political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is
unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being
outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to
such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”
Over 140 states have signed the convention, indicating their commitment to abide by its standards
and provide shelter and respect for foreigners seeking protection within their boundaries.
A migrant on the other hand is a broader category referring to any person who moves, usually across
an international border, with the intention of an extended stay for a range of purposes. It is very
common that refugees and economic migrants follow the same routes, use the same modes of
transport, and rely on the same networks.
But the list doesn’t end there. From the people affected by their circumstances there is also a cohort
who never crossed country boarders and consequently, its members are not considered refugees.
And yet, the problems facing internally displaced persons often are not that dissimilar from the
problems of refugees: they too are in a new place, escaping unrest for the fear of their life or
And then, there are asylum seekers, people who have moved to seek refugee protection but are yet
to receive an answer from the government where they have applied.
These definitions, however carefully crafted, run into some problems. After all, how could a few
sentences perfectly capture millions of life situations playing out over decades? Distinguishing
between an internally displaced person and a refugee is perhaps the least problematic as long as
international borders are clearly delineated and internationally recognized. But, the difference
between a refugee and a migrant can be so fine that the broad definitions following from the 1951
Convention leave room for interpretation. For example, a refugee is defined as a person fleeing as a
result of a threat to their life. It is commonly understood as a war or persecution, but would a person
at risk of famine brought about by a corrupt government be an economic migrant or a refugee, or fall
into both of these categories? Who gets to define what constitutes a legitimate risk to one’s life and
the immediacy of its acting that is entitled to protection under the Convention of Refugees? In the
same vein, should a person be entitled to refugee protection only in the country immediately
adjacent to their own, even if it cannot guarantee complete safety, or should the same protection
extend a continent away from their country of citizenship? To these questions there are no right
answers, but there certainly exist ones that manifest more compassion and understanding for
another person’s circumstances, and we want to advocate for them wholeheartedly.
We at the Lisbon Project aim to serve anyone who might need help after arriving to Lisbon. Depending on what is needed, we are there to simply offer a smile, solicit legal advice on asylum policies, help to find economic opportunities in the city. Everyone’s individual story is a central piece of information to us: who are they? What do they need? What are they looking for in Lisbon? What and who do they love? How can we help them?
At the same time, millions of their stories converge into a broader trend of global movement of people, in particular the part of it that is often motivated by difficult decisions and hope for better lives. In search of safety or a better life, people arrive to Lisbon and countless other destinations selected by a mix of predetermined choices and circumstances.
That said, migration of people does not affect the migrants alone! Just as their lives can be changed by a decision to leave home, they too influence their new communities, neighbors and friends that they make in their new destinations. In one way or another, whether we ever moved homes or not, we’re all influenced by migration, at least by having a friend from afar.
This blog is an attempt at an ambitious task, to put widely known facts related to migration and refugees in context, to give them a human face and to offer a some knowledge, a piece of fresh information to anyone who wants to learn more about the topic. We will share insights from the global situation, developments in Portugal, share our own activities and introduce ourselves and friends of the Lisbon Project.
This blog is for you, since by reading this you show that you care about the topic so close to our heart! Feel free to grow it with us by asking questions, leaving comments or simply circulating the message. Thank you for your visit and we hope you will stay with us through this journey.