International protection terms explained


This page explains the meaning of some of the terms used in international protection applications.

Asylum seeker

An asylum seeker is a person who has left their country and is seeking protection in another country. Asylum seekers are also called international protection applicants.

Seeking asylum is a human right. When you ask for asylum at the border of a country, that country’s authorities must examine your application. If you ask for asylum in Ireland, you must make an application for international protection. While you are waiting for a decision on your application, the Irish State gives you accommodation, food and medical care. You are entitled to legal aid to help you with your application and appeals (if needed).

When your application has been processed, you may be either:

  • Declared a refugee
  • Granted subsidiary protection status
  • Granted permission to remain for humanitarian reasons
  • Refused international protection

You can appeal a refusal to the International Protection Appeals Tribunal.

What does ‘refugee’ mean?

A refugee is a person who:

  • Has a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group
  • Is outside of their own country and cannot or will not return there because of the well-founded fear of persecution
  • Cannot be protected in their own country

Well-founded fear of persecution

A ‘well-founded’ fear means that the fear is based on what the person feels, and also evidence of persecution or harm (or threats of persecution or harm).

There is no complete definition of what ‘persecution’ means. The persecution must be a serious violation of a person’s human rights, or it may be a number of less serious violations, which when taken together amount to a serious violation of a person’s human rights.

Serious violations include acts of violence against the person. They may also include legal, administrative or judicial acts that are discriminatory.

Protected grounds

Race includes ethnic group, and does not only mean ‘colour’.

Religion includes having no religion.

Particular social group includes gender, sexual orientation, or people that have some other ‘distinct identity’.

Outside of country of nationality

If a person has no citizenship (is stateless), the country of ‘habitual residence’ is used. This is the country where the person normally lives.

Where a person is a citizen of more than one country, the authorities who are examining the application can assess if the applicant can live in any of the countries where they are a citizen.

Programme refugees and Convention refugees

A Programme refugee is a person who has been invited to Ireland under a Government decision in response to a humanitarian request, usually from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), either for the purposes of temporary protection or resettlement.

A Convention refugee is a person who fulfils the requirements of the definition of a refugee under the terms of the Geneva Convention (as described above) and is granted refugee status.

Subsidiary protection

Subsidiary protection is a type of international protection.

If you do not qualify as a refugee, you may be granted subsidiary protection if there is a risk that you would suffer serious harm if returned to your own country.

The risk of harm is not based on who you are, but because there is a general risk of harm in the country. This could be, for example, because the country is at war.

Permission to remain

If the International Protection Office (IPO) does not recommend that you should be declared a refugee or granted subsidiary protection, the Minister for Justice may grant you permission to remain.

The Minister makes the decision based on your circumstances, including:

  • Your connection to Ireland
  • Humanitarian considerations
  • Your character and conduct in Ireland and abroad

The Minister also considers national security in arriving at a decision.

Dublin Regulations

EU countries share international protection information, including fingerprints (through the Eurodac system).

The Dublin III Regulations are EU laws that set out the criteria that an EU country should use to decide which country should take charge of your application for international protection.

When you apply for international protection, you are asked about your history as part of your application. If you have made an application for international protection in another EU country, or if the IPO decides that another country should be responsible for your international protection application, you could be transferred to that country.

Safe country of origin

Under the International Protection Act 2015, the Minister for Justice can declare that a country is a safe country of origin. This means that the Minister has declared that there is generally no persecution, no torture or inhuman or degrading treatment, or no threat of violence from an armed conflict in that country.

The following countries have been declared safe countries of origin:

  • Albania
  • Algeria
  • Botswana
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • North Macedonia
  • Georgia
  • Kosovo
  • Montenegro
  • Serbia
  • South Africa

You may still apply for international protection if you are from a safe country of origin, if you can submit serious grounds that the country is not safe in terms of your circumstances.

Prohibition against refoulement

It is against international law to return a person to a country where there is a serious risk that the person will be tortured or subjected to other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This is known as the principle of non-refoulement.

This principle is absolute, which means that it applies regardless of the legal status, history or circumstances of the person involved

In Irish law, the principle against non-refoulement is set out in Section 50 of the International Protection Act 2015.

Temporary Protection Directive

The Temporary Protection Directive is an EU law that was introduced in 2001. The Directive created a special procedure to deal with a ‘mass influx’ of people in need of international protection. The Directive must be triggered by the EU Commission.

When the Directive is triggered, EU countries can grant immediate protection to people without the need for individual applications for international protection. People who are granted temporary protection get a residence permit for the duration of the protection (a minimum of one year and a maximum of 3 years). They also get access to:

  • Employment
  • Accommodation
  • Social welfare
  • Healthcare
  • Education for children

The Directive also allows EU countries to transfer people to other member states, with the agreement of the receiving country and the person being transferred.

The Directive was adopted into Irish law by Section 60 of the International Protection Act 2015.

The Directive was triggered for the first time in March 2022 in response to the war in Ukraine.

Further information

International Protection Office

Immigration Service Delivery

78-83 Lower Mount Street
D02 ND99

Opening Hours: Mon-Fri, 9.00 - 14.30
Tel: +353 1 602 8000
Fax: +353 1 602 8122

Irish Refugee Council

37 Killarney Street
Dublin 1

Tel: (01) 764 5854
Fax: (01) 672 5927
Page edited: 30 January 2024