1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Glossary: asylum, refugees, migration

Manasi Gopalakrishnan | Friedel Taube
June 12, 2018

Migrant, refugee, asylum-seeker, and immigrant — these terms are used frequently in media reports and have even confused experts. DW takes a look at the most frequently used migration terms and what they mean in Germany.

Migrants walk along the Greek border
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld


A migrant is basically anyone who moves to a different place — either within his or her country or outside its borders. Migrants are people who leave their countries of their own will. They may not be facing any danger, but they may decide to move to find work or improve their quality of life, for example.


Germany has two terms for the word "immigrant" but that mean different things.

"Zuwanderer" are all persons who come to Germany, independent of how long they come for and the purpose of their travel. They could immigrate for different reasons: professional, for seeking asylum or for higher education.

"Einwanderer" in German are also immigrants, but officially those who travel to Germany to and plan to stay here for a long time.


According to Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), asylum-seekers are persons who intend to file an asylum application, but have not yet been registered by the office as applicants.

Asylum applicant

The BAMF classifies asylum applicants as persons whose cases are still being processed and whose status has not yet been decided upon.

Fact check: Is it easy to find a job in Germany?


Legally speaking, a refugee is a person who has received refugee protection once his or her asylum process has been completed by the BAMF.

According to the Geneva Refugee Convention, "A refugee...is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion."

A refugee could be unable to return to his country of origin because of the fear of being persecuted by state or non-state players, because of his race, nationality, political opinion, religious conviction and so on.

Refugee protection status

Those who are granted a refugee protection status in Germany receive a residence permit for three years and could be entitled to a settlement permit for three or five years after the initial period, if they have acquired sufficient German language skills and can earn enough money to support themselves

A "refugee" also has unlimited access to the job market and is entitled to privileged family reunification. This means they do not need to prove they have enough financial means to support their family, including spouse and minor, unmarried children.

@dwnews - #RumoursAboutGermany aims to dispel myths for potential migrants


The BAMF differentiates between a person with refugee status and a person entitled to asylum. A person receives asylum if he or she is persecuted on political grounds, is subject to serious human rights violations upon returning to the country of origin and has no alternative "of refuge within the country of origin."

According to the BAMF, crises such as poverty, civil wars, natural disasters and so on are ruled out as grounds for granting asylum. According to the BAMF, only persecution by the state is considered as a justification for granting asylum, although exceptions can be made.

Subsidiary protection

An individual is given subsidiary protection when neither asylum nor refugee status can be granted, but they cannot go back to their home country because of possible serious harm by state or non-state agents.

These threats of harm include imposition of the death penalty, torture or threat to life because of an international or domestic conflict.

Those who receive subsidiary protection get a visa to live in Germany for one year, which can be extended by two years every time. If the person manages to secure an income and learn German, they could receive a settlement permit for five years. He or she can apply for jobs in Germany but is not entitled to privileged family reunification.

Manasi Gopalakrishnan
Manasi Gopalakrishnan Journalist and editor from India, compulsive reader of books.