Are countries obligated to take in refugees? In some cases, yes

Updated 5:15 AM EST, Tue December 29, 2015
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
03:00
Hundreds of refugees storm past Hungarian police
Photos from the Sarost 5, a ship currently stuck at sea with 40 migrants on board, including 2 pregnant women. According to the ship
Photos from the Sarost 5, a ship currently stuck at sea with 40 migrants on board, including 2 pregnant women. According to the ship's second captain Amman Ourari, it has been refused entry by Malta, Italy, France and Tunisia. Photos are from the ship's second captain Amman Ourari.
PHOTO: Ayman Ourari
Now playing
00:50
Migrant ship stranded for two weeks at sea
Rescue boat carrying migrants from off the coast of Libya.
Rescue boat carrying migrants from off the coast of Libya.
PHOTO: Karpov/SOS Mediterranee/MSF/Twitter
Now playing
02:31
The journey of a ship carrying 600 migrants
Now playing
03:57
Migrant returns home to brutal reality
A young boy wrapped in a blanket to protect him from the rain gestures as migrants and refugees protest to call for the opening of the borders near the village of Idomeni where thousands of refugees and migrants are stranded on March 7, 2016. 
EU leaders held a summit with Turkey
A young boy wrapped in a blanket to protect him from the rain gestures as migrants and refugees protest to call for the opening of the borders near the village of Idomeni where thousands of refugees and migrants are stranded on March 7, 2016. EU leaders held a summit with Turkey's prime minister on March 7 in order to back closing the Balkans migrant route and urge Ankara to accept deportations of large numbers of economic migrants from overstretched Greece. / AFP / LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
01:47
A year in the life of migrants
PHOTO: Portuguese Air Force
Now playing
00:43
Dramatic escape as migrant boat catches fire
PHOTO: MOAS
Now playing
00:49
Massive rescue effort in the Mediterranean
PHOTO: Jaime Moreno
Now playing
00:57
Migrant boat lands on Spanish beach
A group of migrants off an incoming train walk down a platform as they are accompanied by the police at the Swedish end of the bridge between Sweden and Denmark near Malmoe on November 12, 2015. The Swedish government on November 11, 2015 said it would temporarily reinstate border checks to deal with an unprecedented influx of migrants, making it the latest country in Europe
A group of migrants off an incoming train walk down a platform as they are accompanied by the police at the Swedish end of the bridge between Sweden and Denmark near Malmoe on November 12, 2015. The Swedish government on November 11, 2015 said it would temporarily reinstate border checks to deal with an unprecedented influx of migrants, making it the latest country in Europe's passport-free Schengen zone to tighten its borders over the crisis. AFP PHOTO / TT NEWS AGENCY / STIG-AKE JONSSON +++ SWEDEN OUT +++ (Photo credit should read STIG-AKE JONSSON/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: AFP/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
01:10
Sweden's refugees by the numbers
Now playing
01:41
Migrants in Serbia: A grim life
heroic crews rescue refugees at sea orig_00000206.jpg
heroic crews rescue refugees at sea orig_00000206.jpg
PHOTO: www.globaldirt.org/Global Dirt
Now playing
03:29
Heroic crews rescue refugees lost at sea
A protester holds up a Turkish flag as others raise their hands during a demonstration in Taksim square in Istanbul on June 8, 2013. Thousands of angry Turks took to the streets on June 8 to join mass anti-government protests, defying Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
A protester holds up a Turkish flag as others raise their hands during a demonstration in Taksim square in Istanbul on June 8, 2013. Thousands of angry Turks took to the streets on June 8 to join mass anti-government protests, defying Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's call to end the worst civil unrest of his decade-long rule. Erdogan, meanwhile, was meeting in Istanbul with top officials of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to discuss the crisis, and a deputy prime minister was due to make a speech later on June 8. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Image
Now playing
01:09
Turkey: A country in turmoil
A photo released by the Italian coast guard shows babies born in a migrant rescue ship off the Sicilian coast.
A photo released by the Italian coast guard shows babies born in a migrant rescue ship off the Sicilian coast.
PHOTO: Italian Coast Guard
Now playing
00:50
Migrant mothers give birth on Italian rescue ship
Survivors from a boat that capsized, off Egypt
Survivors from a boat that capsized, off Egypt's north coast, sit in a police station in Rashid in northern Egypt, on September 21, 2016. A boat carrying up to 450 migrants capsized in the Mediterranean off Egypt's north coast on, drowning 42 people and prompting a search operation that rescued 163 passengers, officials said. / AFP / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
01:02
Migrant boat capsizes near Egypt
In this Friday, May 20, 2016 image made from video a group of Cubans stand atop American Shoal Lighthouse off Sugarloaf Key in a standoff with Coast Guard, in the Florida Keys. The group of migrants who fled Cuba in a homemade boat and climbed onto the 136-year-old lighthouse off the Florida Keys should be allowed to stay in the U.S., according to a federal lawsuit filed on their behalf.
In this Friday, May 20, 2016 image made from video a group of Cubans stand atop American Shoal Lighthouse off Sugarloaf Key in a standoff with Coast Guard, in the Florida Keys. The group of migrants who fled Cuba in a homemade boat and climbed onto the 136-year-old lighthouse off the Florida Keys should be allowed to stay in the U.S., according to a federal lawsuit filed on their behalf.
PHOTO: WSVN-TV/AP
Now playing
00:46
Cubans who climbed lighthouse to be sent home
An Italian Navy ship spotted a boat with migrants off the Libyan coast and shortly after the migrant ship flipped for the precarious floating conditions given the hi number of migrants on board. Rescue operations are still ongoing also with the help of an helicopter and of a second Navy vessel. At the moment 500 people have been saved and seven are dead.
An Italian Navy ship spotted a boat with migrants off the Libyan coast and shortly after the migrant ship flipped for the precarious floating conditions given the hi number of migrants on board. Rescue operations are still ongoing also with the help of an helicopter and of a second Navy vessel. At the moment 500 people have been saved and seven are dead.
PHOTO: Italian Navy
Now playing
00:55
Ship flips, throws 500+ overboard
German Navy sailors surround a boat with more than 100 migrants near the German combat supply ship
German Navy sailors surround a boat with more than 100 migrants near the German combat supply ship 'Frankfurt am Main' during EUNAVFOR Med, also known as Operation Sophia, in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya, Tuesday, March 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
PHOTO: Matthias Schrader/AP
Now playing
01:48
ISIS infiltrates the migrant route in Libya

Story highlights

More than 140 countries are party to an international treaty on refugees

Under the treaty, refugees can enter any member state and won't be sent back home

Oil-rich Gulf states have given money to the refugee crisis, but haven't offered to settle refugees

(CNN) —  

Hundreds of thousands of migrants are pounding on Europe’s invisible doors – dirty, exhausted and desperate to escape the daily carnage in their homelands.

But their arrival also puts a strain on European resources. Germany expects to take in 800,000 refugees and says it will spend at least 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion). Austria, which received 16,000 migrants in just two days, said it won’t be able to keep up with this pace.

At the same time, several oil-rich Arab nations closer to the conflict zones have come under harsh criticism because they’ve taken in virtually no refugees.

So are countries obligated to house refugees? If so, why?

For the most part, it boils down to an international treaty.

What does the treaty say?

The 1951 Refugee Convention was adopted after World War II, when hundreds of thousands of refugees were displaced across Europe.

The treaty defines what refugees are – those who is seeking refuge from persecution. It also gives them a very important right – the right to not be sent back home into harm’s way, except under extreme circumstances.

“Since, by definition, refugees are not protected by their own governments, the international community steps in to ensure they are safe and protected,” said the UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency.

The treaty was amended in 1967, in part to include refugees from around the world.

And according to the provisions, “refugees deserve, as a minimum, the same standards of treatment enjoyed by other foreign nationals in a given country and, in many cases, the same treatment as nationals,” the UNHCR said.

The agency said more than 50 million refugees have been resettled.

Why migrants head to the Mediterranean

Who has signed on to the treaty?

Over the past several decades, 142 states have signed on to both the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 protocol.

Hungary is one of the signatories. But it has been criticized by migrants and activists who say refugees are left in decrepit conditions as they await transfer. Now, Hungary is erecting a fence at the Serbian border to help control the flow of migrants.

Countries outside of Europe are also stepping up to handle the current flood of refugees. Venezuela, which signed on to the 1967 protocol, said it will take in 20,000 refugees. Australia said it has absorbed 4,500 refugees from Syria and Iraq over the past year.

Noticeably absent from the list: the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

How you can help in the migrant crisis

How many refugees has Europe taken in this year?

Well over 366,000 refugees have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe this year, the UNHCR said. Another 2,800 attempted the journey, but either died or disappeared.

The vast majority of refugees come from three countries: Iraq, where migrants are fleeing the brutality of ISIS; Afghanistan, which has been devastated by war; and Syria, where civilians are grappling with both ISIS and indiscriminate attacks in the country’s civil war.

A country-by-country look at the crisis

What rights do refugees have?

In addition to not getting sent back to their home countries, refugees have several other rights, including:

- The right to not be punished for illegally entering countries that signed on to the treaty

- The right to housing

- The right to work

- Access to education

- Access to public assistance

- Access to courts

- The right to get identification and travel documents

Why aren’t Gulf countries taking in refugees?

Since oil-rich Gulf states are close to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, they’d help absorb some of the refugees, right?

Wrong.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates have each given millions of dollars to the United Nations to help Syrian refugees. But they haven’t housed any of them, according to Amnesty International.

“We’ve been asking that not only the borders of the region are open, but that all other borders – especially in the developed world – are also open,” said Antonio Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Abdul Khaleq Abdulla, a retired professor from United Arab Emirates University, said Gulf states have security on their minds.

“Having refugees also feeds into ISIS’ appeal,” Abdulla said. “And it feeds into the violence in the region, which is already the most violent region on Earth. So all in all, anything that goes in the neighborhood impacts the security and the stability of the Arab Gulf states who are by far the most stable and the most secure.”

And those Gulf states aren’t party to the international treaty – so technically, they don’t have to help.

Things to know about Europe’s migrant crisis

CNN’s Becky Anderson and Arwa Damon contributed to this report.