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A person that no State considers to be its citizen (UN Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, also referred to as the “1954 New York Convention”)



Etymologically meaning a person who “hides by day - who sneaks”, or even, in contemporary times, “one lying in wait,” this is a term with strong negative connotations, evoking secrecy, the hiding of oneself, being outside of the norm. “Clandestine” isn’t a legal term, it’s a word used by media and by many politicians to define and stigmatize migrants lacking legal status in the country, and also those who, having fled war and persecution, arrive in Italy without documents or with false documents – such as refugees and asylum seekers. In other countries the “clandestine” are called “sans papiers,” (in France), “non-documented migrant workers” (the United Nations’ suggested term), definitions that refer to the documents that the person possesses, rather than to the person’s essence.



A person forced to leave her country for environmental reasons that make it impossible (temporarily or permanently) to remain in the place of her habitual residence. (The term “Eco-refugee” is also sometimes used, but “refugee” has a very specific legal definition and these situations do not make a person a refugee in the legal sense)



A person who is not a citizen of one of the 27 countries that currently compose the European Union. Therefore, contrary to the common notion, this includes even Swiss or United States citizens.



Generic term indicating one who chooses to leave her own country to live, temporarily or permanently, in another State. The decision is a voluntary one, even if it is often motivated by economic factors, happening for example when a person looks to another country to find work, or better living conditions, or survival.



A generic term for a person who leaves his country due to external events (war, invasion, revolution, natural catastrophe)



Migrants are not regular or irregular, but instead are regularly or irregularly present in the country. Regularly present migrants are those who reside in a State with a permit of stay issued by the competent authorities. Migrants who are irregularly present have, in most cases, permits of stay or visas that have expired and are not renewable. Approximately 90% of irregularly present migrants are persons with permits of stay that are not able to be renewed, otherwise referred to as “overstayers.”



An asylum seeker is one who has fled his own country and in another State, makes a request for asylum to be recognized as a refugee. His request is examined by the competent authority of that country (in Italy, the Central Commissions for Recognition of International Protection). Until a final decision is made on the merits of the request, he is an asylum seeker.



A refugee is one who was forced to leave her own country due to persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion (1951 Geneva Convention). Distinct from a migrant, he has not chosen to leave; she cannot return to her country of origin without risk to her own security and safety. From a legal/administrative point of view, a refugee is a person who has been recognized as meriting refugee status.



In some contexts, a displaced person is referred to generically as one who has fled due to natural catastrophes or war and who is temporarily sheltered in another country with a “humanitarian protection” status. Often, the term is used as a translation from English’s “Internally Displaced Person” (IDP), one who abandons her home for the same reasons as a refugee, but who doesn’t cross an international border, remaining therefore inside her own country.


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