Every person has the right to live free from persecution, or the fear of persecution, based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Though every government is obligated to provide this right, many fail. Every year millions of people face persecution for traits they cannot control or exercising their religious or political beliefs.
When governments fail to protect these rights, people have the right to move to a country that will protect them. This is the right to asylum. A defintion of asylum is discussed here.
People who seek to exercise this right are called “asylum seekers” or, in some cases, “refugees.” The difference between asylum seekers and refugees is discussed here.
In 1951, the formal basis for exercising the right to asylum was established by an international treaty, the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Countries signing that Convention have an obligation to provide asylum or refuge to people fleeing persecution.