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Refugee and Asylum Seeker Facts

Last updated: April 8, 2024

For up-to-date information about the process of seeking asylum, go to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

A CVT Explainer

Learn more about the differences between refugees and asylum seekers. This explainer will go into depth about each group and provide resources for those in need. Click here to read the explainer

Since opening its doors in the mid-1980s, the Center for Victims of Torture has extended rehabilitative care to tens of thousands of torture survivors around the world, nearly all of whom were refugees or asylum seekers. Over these years, CVT has witnessed extraordinary healing, courage and resilience among clients, as well as confusion and misunderstanding from many in the public about the lives and challenges faced by refugees and asylum seekers. To help clarify misconceptions and shed light on the realities of the lives of torture survivors, here are eight facts intended to help dispel some of the myths about who refugees and asylum seekers really are.

  1. Refugees and Asylum Seekers – What do These Terms Mean?
    To obtain either refugee status or asylum, a person who has fled their home needs to demonstrate that they have a well-founded fear of persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. The biggest difference between refugees and asylum seekers is where and how this determination is made, not what they have endured: refugees and asylum seekers share the experience of having to escape, often without warning, and embark on a difficult and dangerous search for safe haven. Read more.
  2. Refugees and Asylum Seekers Are Fleeing Persecution and Torture
    Asylum seekers and refugees leave their countries because they have no choice; the risks to their lives and their families’ lives are simply too great. Startling numbers of them are survivors of torture. Read more.
  3. Flight From Persecution is Dangerous and Traumatic
    Many CVT clients tell us they fled their homes with only the possessions they could carry, and they had to travel through more than one country to get to a safer location. These circumstances make them vulnerable to a host of dangers, including human trafficking, sexual assault, hunger and many more. Read more.
  4. Harsh Treatment of Asylum Seekers Compounds Trauma
    CVT knows that many people arriving at borders have already survived deeply traumatic experiences, including torture. Harsh treatment at borders exacerbates these harms and inflicts new ones. Read more.
  5. Refugees and Asylum Seekers Face Hardship in a New Country
    The impacts of torture affect many aspects of survivors’ lives, including for some their ability quickly and fully to adapt to life in new countries and to begin rebuilding their lives. Read more.
  6. The Asylum Process in the United States Complicates Healing
    The asylum process in the U.S. is complicated and takes years to complete. Asylum seekers have very limited access to benefits during this time and must secure their own counsel in their immigration case to get a fair chance at obtaining asylum. All of this can be especially harsh for torture and trauma survivors. Read more.
  7. Children are Particularly Affected by Trauma
    Because of the nature of torture, oftentimes children who accompany their parents who are fleeing persecution experience symptoms of trauma as secondary or primary survivors themselves. Their trauma is compounded by the policies and practices of receiving countries, such as detention and family separation. Read more.
  8. Torture Survivors Can, and Do, Heal and Prosper
    Over the years, CVT has been witness to the extraordinary healing achieved by clients as they rebuild their lives and become assets for our communities—culturally, professionally, socially and economically. Read more.