The term “nonrefoulement” refers to a cornerstone of asylum and international refugee law which prohibits the expulsion or return to a country in which a person’s life or freedom is threatened. Article 33 (1) of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees states that:
1. No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
The right to seek asylum is found in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the principle reflects international commitment to ensure the protection of these rights including the rights to life, to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and to liberty and security of person. Non-refoulement is considered as a rule of customary law, thus all states are bound to respect this principle whether or not they are signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol.
For more information on this principle please see:
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNHCR Note on the Principle of Non-Refoulement, November 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/438c6d972.html