Background on Refugees



The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) defines a refugee as someone who is outside their country of nationality for fear of being persecuted for their race, religion, nationality, or membership of a particular social group or public opinion and, because of this fear, is unwilling to appeal for protection in that country.


  • The number of people uprooted by conflict and persecution is at its highest in 18 years.
  • At the end of 2012, 45.1 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced as a result of conflict and persecution. 15.4 million of these people are refugees.
  • Along with refugees, there are also asylum seekers, who are those who claim to be refugees, but have not had their claim evaluated. There are also Internally Displaced People (IDPs). Like refugees, IDPs are on the run in fear of persecution or armed conflict. However, IDPs have not crossed an international border to seek sanctuary, making them among the world’s most vulnerable people, as they are under the protection of a government that may very well be the cause of their fear. Those left homeless by natural disasters are also known as IDPs.
  • Outside of the 4.9 million Palestinian refugees, most originate from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, the Sudan, and the Syrian Arab Republic.
  • Developing countries bear the most burden in sheltering refugees, hosting 8.5 million at the end of 2012.
  • Refugees’ safety is not necessarily guaranteed with escaping from the country of their nationality. Governments have subjected refugees to arbitrary arrest, detention, denial of social and economic rights and closed borders. Some countries, such as China and Thailand, have even forcibly returned refugees to the country persecuting them.
  • Even the states of Europe, North America and Australia, which first established the international refugee protection system, have adopted more restrictive—sometimes hostile—policies.

Aiding Refugees

  • As of January 2012, more than 6 million refugees, and more than 15 million IDPs were protected or assisted by the UNHCR.
  • Refugees international is working to address the lack of legal protections for IDPs, pressing national governments to develop and implement their own comprehensive IDP policies.
  • Since 2002, the UNHCR managed to return 5 million refugees with assistance to Afghanistan alone. They consider a refugee’s returning home in safety and dignity to be a successful end to their trauma. The U.N is promoting global burden-sharing to help return the displaced to their homes.
  • For those who cannot return to their country, groups such as the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants will try to help them resettles in other countries. The USCRI in particular resettles refugees in America and helps them achieve self-sufficiency. Only a minority of refugees have the opportunity to resettle in another country or integrate into their host society.


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Sources: United NationsUN Refugee AgencyRefugees International, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants