A New Standard for Evaluating Claims of Economic Persecution Under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
The United Nations Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees define the requirements for qualification as a “refugee” and the protection that should be afforded to qualifying persons. Satisfying the Convention definition of refugee usually qualifies a person for asylum; thus, interpretation of its requirements can determine whether an alien is able to escape alleged persecution in his or her country of origin. Currently, 147 countries are parties to the Convention, the Protocol, or both, including the United States. In order to qualify for refugee status, an asylum seeker must prove a well-founded fear of persecution. However, the Convention does not define what harm rises to the level of persecution, and there is no internationally accepted definition. While physical harm easily suffices, confusion and inconsistency exist regarding when non-physical economic disadvantage constitutes persecution and what standard should be applied to such claims. This Note examines the Convention, development of economic asylum claims in the United States, and trends in international approaches to this issue. It then proposes a uniform standard consistent with general international principles that the United States should adopt.