The genesis of contemporary Australian refugee law is Australia's accession to the United Nations 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees as modified by the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (hereafter together referred to as the Convention). The Convention provides a definition of a refugee and confers a number of rights and protections to persons falling within this definition. The central protection provided by the Convention is found in Article 33, which imposes an obligation not to return people recognised as refugees to States where they might be persecuted. The Australian Parliament has incorporated the protection provided by the Convention into domestic law through the operation of s 36 of the Migration Act 1958.
At the core of refugee status is the definition pursuant to Article 1A(2) of the Convention, which provides that a refugee is a person who:
owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. […]