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What is a Refugee? And Other Basic Facts About Refugees

What is a Refugee? And Other Basic Facts About Refugees

What is a refugee? What is the difference between a refugee and an immigrant? Whose job is it to protect refugees? Learn the answer to these questions and more in this post that attempts to act as a starting point for an education about refugees.

What is a refugee? 

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee could have a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal, and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries. 

What is the difference between a refugee, an asylum seeker, an internally displaced person, a stateless person, and an immigrant? 

A refugee is someone who is recognized by the host country’s government or by UNHCR as unable to return safely to their home country due to fear of persecution. An asylum seeker is someone who believes themselves unable to return to their home country due to fear of persecution and are awaiting refugee status to receive protection. Legally, every asylum seeker has a right to a fair trial to determine whether they have refugee status. An internally displaced person is someone who is displaced within their own country due to similar fear of persecution or dangerous environment. A stateless person is someone who is not a citizen of any country, usually because they are being denied their rightful nationality by their government. This denial of nationality robs them of certain basic human rights and rids their host country of the responsibility to provide those rights. An immigrant is someone who leaves their home country to live in a new country of their own volition, who would at any time be able to return safely home to their country.

How many refugees are there? 

As of UNHCR’s latest figures for the end of 2020, there were at least 82.4 million forcibly displaced persons, including refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons. Of the 26.4 million people who are specifically refugees, about half of them are under the age of 18.


Why are there refugees? 

Refugees are created when a group of people are denied the basic human rights of protection, the pursuit of happiness, and means of living. This happens for many different reasons in different countries. You can read our blog about the top 6 refugee crises here to learn more about what caused those. 

Where do refugees come from?

Refugees come from all over the world; any country that withholds basic human rights from its citizens (including the basic human right to protection, nationality, and means of living) can be a producer of refugees. The top 5 producers of refugees right now are Syria (6.7 million), Palestine (5.4 million), Venezuela (4.0 million), Afghanistan (2.6 million), South Sudan (2.2 million), and Myanmar/Burma (1.1 million).

Where do refugees go? 

Refugees most commonly flee to neighboring countries, or countries that share borders and cultural similarities with their countries of origin. 73% of refugees worldwide are hosted in neighboring countries. The transition for refugees to assimilate into host countries tends to be easier, as there are more likely similarities in language and culture.. However, the tendency of refugees to flee to neighboring countries also means that 86% of refugees worldwide are hosted in developing nations as opposed to developed nations. These developing nations don’t have the same resources and preparedness that a more developed nation would have to absorb large numbers of refugees into their economy, housing infrastructure, school and healthcare system, etc. As of the end of 2020, the top five countries accepting the most refugees were Turkey (3.7 million), Colombia (1.7 million), Pakistan (1.4 million), Uganda (1.4 million), and Germany (1.2 million). There is also a concept of first country of asylum that mandates that asylum seekers have their trial for refugee status in the first country they arrive in before travelling elsewhere. This explains why countries like Greece, Germany, and the United States have so many asylum seekers, because the asylum seekers who enter into these countries need to stay there until they are registered and can go elsewhere. This is also referred to as the Safe Third Country Agreement in North America for Canada, the U.S, and Mexico as a way to keep refugees in one country before travelling elsewhere. However, in response to a sharp drop in refugee admissions in the United States, Canada ruled the Safe Third Country Agreement as inhumane and withdrew from the agreement so that asylum seekers who are unable to get their trial in the U.S. could safely apply for asylum in Canada. 

Are refugees illegal? 

Refugees are not illegal. Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, refugees have a legal right to seek asylum (safety) outside of their home country, and countries have a legal responsibility to offer them protection. Referring to refugees as illegal immigrants is a misnomer; as mentioned earlier, an immigrant is someone who decides to go to another country of their own volition, who could safely return home, so an illegal immigrant is someone who has begun a new life in a new country without going through the necessary system to do it legally (citizenship papers, etc.). Refugees are neither illegal, nor are they immigrants! 

How can I support refugees? 

The most common way to support refugees is to donate to organizations that know how to help. On a local level, many cities and towns have organizations – often run through churches – who help to sponsor, host, and resettle refugees. 

Some of our favorite organizations at Wear The Peace are:

IRC – Give A Girl A Year Of School 

Africa Relief Fund 

Pure Hands – Yemen Food Support

Launch Good – Refugee Housing 

Pious Projects – Help Syrian Refugees

Palestine Children’s Relief Fund – Medical Support for Palestine

Helping Hand for Relief and Development – Venezuela Relief

Islamic Relief USA – Sponsor an Orphan

Pious Projects – Ethiopia Food Support

Help Hand for Relief and Development – Support for Rohingya Refugees

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