You have the right to seek and enjoy protection in another country if you face persecution in your own country of origin.

Asylum, also referred to as “international protection”, is legal protection granted to people who face persecution or serious harm in their country of origin.

Who is a refugee?

The cornerstone of international protection is the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, also known as the Geneva Convention or the 1951 Refugee Convention. The convention defines the term “refugee” as someone who is outside one’s own country and unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.

example You could qualify as a refugee if you are an opposition activist who speaks out against the governing regime in your country, and this results in the authorities issuing a warrant for your arrest because of your political opinion.

Today, the procedure and conditions related to international protection are codified in EU law, which is also the basis of Estonian legislation (Act on Granting International Protection to Aliens). The EU Qualification Directive sets out the standards to qualify for international protection.

What is persecution?

The refugee definition in the Qualification Directive matches the definition in the 1951 Refugee Convention. The Directive also clarifies the meaning of persecution, which is defined as severe violation of basic human rights, including, but not limited to:

  • acts of physical, mental or sexual violence
  • discriminatory legal, administrative or judicial measures
  • disproportionate/discriminatory prosecution or punishment

What is subsidiary protection?

The Qualification Directive differentiates between two forms of international protection: refugee status and subsidiary protection. Subsidiary protection is granted to people who do not qualify as a refugee based on the definition outlined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, but who are threatened with serious harm upon return to their country of origin, including:

  • the death penalty
  • torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,
  • serious and individual threat by reason of indiscriminate violence in an armed conflict

The main difference is that the subsidiary protection is not connected to the five grounds for refugee status (race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion).

example You could qualify for subsidiary protection if there is an armed conflict in your country and the high level of indiscriminate violence makes it impossible for you to stay in your home.

Who is an asylum-seeker?

An asylum-seeker is defined as someone who has applied for international protection, but no decision has yet been taken on their application.

Asylum & Human rights

The right to seek asylum is deeply connected to your human rights. It means that you have the right to live in a place where your human rights are respected – if your own country cannot protect you from serious human rights violations or is the perpetrator of such violations, other countries are not allowed to send you back. The main rights that could be violated are your right to life, the prohibition of torture or the right to liberty and security.

About this section

In this section, you will find information about how to apply for asylum, what the procedure entails, what your rights are during and after the asylum procedure, and in what cases you could be detained as an asylum-seeker.


Last updated 15/04/2023