When Canada signed on to an international convention on refugees, we made a promise that we would not return asylum-seekers to countries where their lives or freedoms are in danger.

The Canadian government has signed on to both the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees, international treaties that define exactly who can be considered a refugee, and what our responsibilities are to them.

For the complete text of the agreements, click here.

The 1951 convention was drawn up in response to the massive movement of Europeans seeking asylum at the end of World War II, but the principle remains largely the same today.

The documents are long, but the overall message for Canada is simple: Anyone -- barring some notable exceptions -- who faces persecution, injury or death in their home countries should be allowed to stay in Canada while their bid to settle here is considered.

According to the agreements, a refugee is defined as:

A person who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence; has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution.

Certain people are explicitly excluded from the protections of the convention.

Those who have committed serious non-political crimes, war crimes or crimes against humanity are not covered by the international agreements.

People who are active members of any military force are also not considered to be refugees.

Anyone who fits the proper definition of a refugee can only be expelled from the country after the due legal process is completed.

Refugees also have a duty to their countries of asylum -- namely, to follow all laws and regulations.

According to UN statistics, 61,170 people are currently living in Canada while they wait for their refugee applications to be processed. A total of 169,434 approved refugees are living in the country.