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For other uses, see Refugee (disambiguation).
Refugees in 2015[1]
Total population
15.483 million
Regions with significant populations
Africa 4.397 million
Europe 4.362 million
Asia and the Pacific 3.551 million
Middle East and North Africa 2.675 million
Asia and the Pacific 496,384

A refugee, according to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees,[2][3] is a person who is outside their country of citizenship because they have well-founded grounds for fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, and is unable to obtain sanctuary from their home country or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country;[2][3] or in the case of not having a nationality and being outside their country of former habitual residence as a result of such event, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to their country of former habitual residence.[2][3] Such a person may be called an "asylum seeker" until granted "refugee status" by the contracting state or the UNHCR[2] if they formally make a claim for sanctuary or asylum.[3] The term "refugee" is also commonly used as a synonym for "displaced person", causing confusion between the general descriptive class of anyone who was forced to leave their home and the subgroup of legally defined refugees who enjoy specified international legal protection.

The lead international agency coordinating refugee protection is the United Nations Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In 2006, there were 8.4 million UNHCR registered refugees worldwide, which was the lowest number since 1980.[4] The UNHCR reports that at the end of 2015, there were 21.3 million refugees worldwide (16.1 million under UNHCR's mandate, plus 5.2 million Palestinian refugees under UNRWA's mandate). 1.8 million were newly displaced refugees. Among them, Syrian refugees were the largest refugee group in 2015 at 4.9 million.[5] In 2014, Syrians had overtaken Afghan refugees, who had been the largest refugee group for three decades.[6] The countries hosting the largest number of refugees according to UNHCR are Turkey (2.5 million), Pakistan (1.6 million) and Lebanon (1.1 million).[5] In 2015, the total number of displaced people worldwide, including refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons, was at its highest level on record.[7]

Research has found that refugees have historically tended to flee to nearby countries with ethnic kin populations and a history of accepting other co-ethnic refugees.[8] The religious, sectarian and denominational affiliation has been an important feature of debate in refugee-hosting nations.[9]


Etymology and usage[edit]

Although similar terms in other languages have described an event marking large scale migration of a specific population from a place of origin, such as the biblical account of Israelites fleeing from Assyrian conquest (circa 740 BCE), in English, the term refugee derives from the root word refuge, from Old French refuge, meaning "hiding place". It refers to "shelter or protection from danger or distress", from Latin fugere, "to flee", and refugium, "a taking [of] refuge, place to flee back to". In Western history, the term was first applied to French Huguenots, after the Edict of Fontainebleau (1540), who again migrated from France after the Edict of Nantes revocation (1685). The word meant "one seeking asylum," until around 1914, when it evolved to mean "one fleeing home", applied in this instance to civilians in Flanders heading west to escape fighting in World War I.[10]


Darfur refugee camp in Chad, 2005

Following World War II and in response to the large numbers of people fleeing Eastern Europe, the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees adopted the following definition of "refugee" to apply to any person who (in Article 1.A.2):[2]

owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.[2]

The concept of a refugee was expanded by the Convention's 1967 Protocol and by regional conventions in Africa and Latin America to include displaced persons who had fled war or other violence in their home country. European Union's minimum standards definition of refugee, underlined by Art. 2 (c) of Directive No. 2004/83/EC, essentially reproduces the narrow definition of refugee offered by the UN 1951 Convention; nevertheless, by virtue of articles 2 (e) and 15 of the same Directive, persons who have fled a war-caused generalized violence are, at certain conditions, eligible for a complementary form of protection, called subsidiary protection. The same form of protection is foreseen for displaced people who, without being refugees, are nevertheless exposed, if returned to their countries of origin, to death penalty, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatments.

In UN parlance, the concept of 'refugee' also includes descendants of refugees but only in the case of two specific groups, viz. Palestinian refugees and Sahrawi refugees. As a result, the vast majority of registered refugees within these two groups are not themselves refugees, but have inherited the 'refugee status' and hence their eligibility for aid and services, provided they meet certain criteria established by the UN and/or aid agencies. The UN does not consider refugee status to be hereditary for any other group, but may still assist relatives of refugees in some cases.

The term refugee is often used to include displaced persons who may fall outside the legal definition in the 1951 Refugee Convention,[11] either because they have left their home countries because of war and not because of a fear of persecution, or because they have been forced to migrate within their home countries.[12] The Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, adopted by the Organization of African Unity in 1969, accepted the definition of the 1951 Refugee Convention and expanded it to include people who left their countries of origin not only because of persecution but also due to acts of external aggression, occupation, domination by foreign powers or serious disturbances of public order.[12]


The original definition with all its legacies has been criticized as based on three political framings:[13]

  1. "refugees have been defined in terms of those moving across nation-state borders, as if national identity excludes all other displacements of equal consequence ...";
  2. "the neat definition of Article 1 glides over the fine print a little further down the page that allows state signatories to choose to restrict the definition of refugees to only those who have come from Europe, and during a very particular time-period ...";
  3. "it gives credence to the notion that personal individualized ‘fear of being persecuted’ is the core reason for needing support. War, upheaval, famine and pestilence do not in the conventional definition make for refugee status. It does not matter that civilian deaths as a proportion of deaths in war escalated to 10% in World War I, and to more than 90% of the 40 million killed since 1945. It only matters that persons fear the persecution of their state."

This definition 'refugee' does not include internally displaced persons (IDPs). Although similar and frequently confused with refugees, internally displaced persons have a different legal definition and are essentially displaced persons or refugees who have not crossed any international border. However the UNHCR still supports IDPs and people in IDP-like situations. Compared to the 19.5 million refugees at the end of 2014, there were 38.2 million (about twice as many) IDPs in the same year.[14] Furthermore, not all migrants or displaced persons who are seeking asylum in another country fall under the definition of "refugee" according to article 1A of the Geneva Convention. In 1951, when the text of the Convention was discussed, the parties of the treaty had the idea that slavery was a thing from the past: therefore escaped and fleeing slaves are a group not mentioned in the definition, as well as a category of climate refugees or environmental migrants. Urban refugees are not included in the definition.

Comparison between the number of refugees and IDPs who are supported by the UNHCR between 2014 and 1998.[15]
End-year 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014
Refugees 11,480,900 12,129,600 10,594,100 9,574,800 9,877,700 10,489,800 10,549,700 10,498,000 14,385,300
IDPs 5,063,900 5,998,500 4,646,600 5,426,500 12,794,300 14,442,200 14,697,900 17,670,400 32,274,600


Greeks fleeing the Destruction of Psara in 1824 (painting by Nikolaos Gyzis).

The idea that a person who sought sanctuary in a holy place could not be harmed without inviting divine retribution was familiar to the ancient Greeks and ancient Egyptians. However, the right to seek asylum in a church or other holy place was first codified in law by King Æthelberht of Kent in about AD 600. Similar laws were implemented throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. The related concept of political exile also has a long history: Ovid was sent to Tomis; Voltaire was sent to England. By the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, nations recognized each other's sovereignty. However, it was not until the advent of romantic nationalism in late 18th-century Europe that nationalism gained sufficient prevalence for the phrase "country of nationality" to become practically meaningful, and for people crossing borders to be required to provide identification.

One million Armenians fled Turkey between 1915 and 1923 to escape persecution and genocide.
Turkish refugees from Edirne, 1913

The term "refugee" is sometimes applied to people who might fit the definition outlined by the 1951 Convention, were it to be applied retroactively. There are many candidates. For example, after the Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685 outlawed Protestantism in France, hundreds of thousands of Huguenots fled to England, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Germany and Prussia. The repeated waves of pogroms that swept Eastern Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries prompted mass Jewish emigration (more than 2 million Russian Jews emigrated in the period 1881–1920). Beginning in the 19th century, Muslim people emigrated to Turkey from Europe.[16] The Balkan Wars of 1912–1913 caused 800,000 people to leave their homes.[17] Various groups of people were officially designated refugees beginning in World War I.

League of Nations[edit]

Children preparing for evacuation from Spain during the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939.

The first international co-ordination of refugee affairs came with the creation by the League of Nations in 1921 of the High Commission for Refugees and the appointment of Fridtjof Nansen as its head. Nansen and the Commission were charged with assisting the approximately 1,500,000 people who fled the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent civil war (1917–1921),[18] most of them aristocrats fleeing the Communist government. It is estimated that about 800,000 Russian refugees became stateless when Lenin revoked citizenship for all Russian expatriates in 1921.[19]

In 1923, the mandate of the Commission was expanded to include the more than one million Armenians who left Turkish Asia Minor in 1915 and 1923 due to a series of events now known as the Armenian Genocide. Over the next several years, the mandate was expanded further to cover Assyrians and Turkish refugees.[20] In all of these cases, a refugee was defined as a person in a group for which the League of Nations had approved a mandate, as opposed to a person to whom a general definition applied.[citation needed]

The 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey involved about two million people (around 1.5 million Anatolian Greeks and 500,000 Muslims in Greece) most of whom were forcibly repatriated and denaturalized[clarification needed] from homelands of centuries or millennia (and guaranteed the nationality of the destination country) by a treaty promoted and overseen by the international community as part of the Treaty of Lausanne.[21]

The U.S. Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act in 1921, followed by the Immigration Act of 1924. The Immigration Act of 1924 was aimed at further restricting the Southern and Eastern Europeans, especially Jews, Italians and Slavs, who had begun to enter the country in large numbers beginning in the 1890s.[22] Most of the European refugees (principally Jews and Slavs) fleeing Stalin, the Nazis and World War II were barred from going to the United States.[23]

In 1930, the Nansen International Office for Refugees (Nansen Office) was established as a successor agency to the Commission. Its most notable achievement was the Nansen passport, a refugee travel document, for which it was awarded the 1938 Nobel Peace Prize. The Nansen Office was plagued by problems of financing, an increase in refugee numbers, and a lack of co-operation from some member states, which led to mixed success overall.

However, the Nansen Office managed to lead fourteen nations to ratify the 1933 Refugee Convention, an early, and relatively modest, attempt at a human rights charter, and in general assisted around one million refugees worldwide.[24]

1933 (rise of Nazism) to 1944[edit]

The rise of Nazism led to such a very large increase in the number of refugees from Germany that in 1933 the League created a High Commission for Refugees Coming from Germany. Besides other measures by the Nazis which created fear and flight, Jews were stripped of German citizenship[25] by the Reich Citizenship Law of 1935.[26] On 4 July 1936 an agreement was signed under League auspices that defined a refugee coming from Germany as "any person who was settled in that country, who does not possess any nationality other than German nationality, and in respect of whom it is established that in law or in fact he or she does not enjoy the protection of the Government of the Reich" (article 1).[27]

Czech refugees from the Sudetenland, October 1938

The mandate of the High Commission was subsequently expanded to include persons from Austria and Sudetenland, which Germany annexed after 1 October 1938 in accordance with the Munich Agreement. According to the Institute for Refugee Assistance, the actual count of refugees from Czechoslovakia on 1 March 1939 stood at almost 150,000.[28] Between 1933 and 1939, about 200,000 Jews fleeing Nazism were able to find refuge in France,[29] while at least 55,000 Jews were able to find refuge in Palestine[30] before the British authorities closed that destination in 1939.

On 31 December 1938, both the Nansen Office and High Commission were dissolved and replaced by the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees under the Protection of the League.[20] This coincided with the flight of several hundred thousand Spanish Republicans to France after their defeat by the Nationalists in 1939 in the Spanish Civil War.[31]

The conflict and political instability during World War II led to massive numbers of refugees (see World War II evacuation and expulsion). In 1943, the Allies created the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) to provide aid to areas liberated from Axis powers, including parts of Europe and China. By the end of the War, Europe had more than 40 million refugees.[32] UNRRA was involved in returning over seven million refugees, then commonly referred to as displaced persons or DPs, to their country of origin and setting up displaced persons camps for one million refugees who refused to be repatriated. Even two years after the end of War, some 850,000 people still lived in DP camps across Western Europe.[33] After the establishment of Israel in 1948, Israel accepted more than 650,000 refugees by 1950. By 1953, over 250,000 refugees were still in Europe, most of them old, infirm, crippled, or otherwise disabled.

Post-World War II population transfers[edit]

Russian refugees near Stalingrad, 1942

After the Soviet armed forces captured eastern Poland from the Germans in 1944, the Soviets unilaterally declared a new frontier between the Soviet Union and Poland approximately at the Curzon Line, despite the protestations from the Polish government-in-exile in London and the western Allies at the Teheran Conference and the Yalta Conference of February 1945. After the German surrender on 7 May 1945, the Allies occupied the remainder of Germany, and the Berlin declaration of 5 June 1945 confirmed the division of Allied-occupied Germany according to the Yalta Conference, which stipulated the continued existence of the German Reich as a whole, which would include its eastern territories as of 31 December 1937. This did not impact on Poland's eastern border, and Stalin refused to be removed from these eastern Polish territories.

In the last months of World War II, about five million German civilians from the German provinces of East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia fled the advance of the Red Army from the east and became refugees in Mecklenburg, Brandenburg and Saxony. Since the spring of 1945 the Poles had been forcefully expelling the remaining German population in these provinces. When the Allies met in Potsdam on 17 July 1945 at the Potsdam Conference, a chaotic refugee situation faced the occupying powers. The Potsdam Agreement, signed on 2 August 1945, defined the Polish western border as that of 1937, (Article VIII)[34] placing one fourth of Germany's territory under the Provisional Polish administration. Article XII ordered that the remaining German populations in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary be transferred west in an "orderly and humane" manner.[34] (See Flight and expulsion of Germans (1944–50).)

Although not approved by Allies at Potsdam, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans living in Yugoslavia and Romania were deported to slave labour in the Soviet Union, to Allied-occupied Germany, and subsequently to the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Austria and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). This entailed the largest population transfer in history. In all 15 million Germans were affected, and more than two million perished during the expulsions of the German population.[35][36][37][38][39] (See Flight and expulsion of Germans (1944–1950).) Between the end of War and the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, more than 563,700 refugees from East Germany traveled to West Germany for asylum from the Soviet occupation.

During the same period, millions of former Russian citizens were forcefully repatriated against their will into the USSR.[40] On 11 February 1945, at the conclusion of the Yalta Conference, the United States and United Kingdom signed a Repatriation Agreement with the USSR.[41] The interpretation of this Agreement resulted in the forcible repatriation of all Soviets regardless of their wishes. When the war ended in May 1945, British and United States civilian authorities ordered their military forces in Europe to deport to the Soviet Union millions of former residents of the USSR, including many persons who had left Russia and established different citizenship decades before. The forced repatriation operations took place from 1945 to 1947.[42]

German refugees from East Prussia, 1945

At the end of World War II, there were more than 5 million "displaced persons" from the Soviet Union in Western Europe. About 3 million had been forced laborers (Ostarbeiters)[43] in Germany and occupied territories.[44][45] The Soviet POWs and the Vlasov men were put under the jurisdiction of SMERSH (Death to Spies). Of the 5.7 million Soviet prisoners of war captured by the Germans, 3.5 million had died while in German captivity by the end of the war.[46][47] The survivors on their return to the USSR were treated as traitors (see Order No. 270).[48][49] Over 1.5 million surviving Red Army soldiers imprisoned by the Nazis were sent to the Gulag.[50][51]

Poland and Soviet Ukraine conducted population exchanges following the imposition of a new Poland-Soviet border at the Curzon Line in 1944. About 2,100,000 Poles were expelled west of the new border (see Repatriation of Poles), while about 450,000 Ukrainians were expelled to the east of the new border. The population transfer to Soviet Ukraine occurred from September 1944 to May 1946 (see Repatriation of Ukrainians). A further 200,000 Ukrainians left southeast Poland more or less voluntarily between 1944 and 1945.[52]

The International Refugee Organization (IRO) was founded on 20 April 1946, and took over the functions of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, which was shut down in 1947. While the handover was originally planned to take place at the beginning of 1947, it did not occur until July 1947.[53] The International Refugee Organization was a temporary organization of the United Nations (UN), which itself had been founded in 1945, with a mandate to largely finish the UNRRA's work of repatriating or resettling European refugees. It was dissolved in 1952 after resettling about one million refugees.[54] The definition of a refugee at this time was an individual with either a Nansen passport or a "Certificate of identity" issued by the International Refugee Organization.

The Constitution of the International Refugee Organization, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 15 December 1946, specified the agency's field of operations. Controversially, this defined "persons of German ethnic origin" who had been expelled, or were to be expelled from their countries of birth into the postwar Germany, as individuals who would "not be the concern of the Organization." This excluded from its purview a group that exceeded in number all the other European displaced persons put together. Also, because of disagreements between the Western allies and the Soviet Union, the IRO only worked in areas controlled by Western armies of occupation.


UNHCR tents at a refugee camp following episodes of xenophobic violence and rioting in South Africa, 2008
Refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (established 14 December 1950) protects and supports refugees at the request of a government or the United Nations and assists in their return or resettlement. All refugees in the world are under the UNHCR mandate except Palestinian refugees who fled the current state of Israel between 1947 and 1949, as a result of the 1948 Palestine War, and their descendants, who are assisted by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). However, Palestinian Arabs who fled the West Bank and Gaza after 1949 (for example, during the 1967 Six Day war) are under the jurisdiction of the UNHCR.

UNHCR provides protection and assistance not only to refugees, but also to other categories of displaced or needy persons. These include asylum seekers, refugees who have voluntarily returned home but still need help in rebuilding their lives, local civilian communities directly affected by the movements of refugees, stateless people and so-called internally displaced people (IDPs). IDPs are civilians who have been forced to flee their homes, but who have not reached a neighboring country and therefore, unlike refugees, are not protected by international law and may find it hard to receive any form of assistance. As the nature of war has changed in the last few decades, with more and more internal conflicts replacing interstate wars, the number of IDPs has increased significantly. According to Bogumil Terminski the stabilization of the worldwide refugee problem is the main cause of the development of the studies on internal displacement.

The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State or territory, with the three options (also called "durable solutions") to either return home voluntarily, or integrate locally or to resettle in a third country.

UNHCR's mandate has gradually been expanded to include protecting and providing humanitarian assistance to what it describes as other persons "of concern", including internally displaced persons (IDPs) who would fit the legal definition of a refugee under the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol, the 1969 Organization for African Unity Convention, or some other treaty if they left their country, but who presently remain in their country of origin. UNHCR thus has missions in Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Serbia and Montenegro and Ivory Coast to assist and provide services to IDPs. Asia – 8,603,600 Africa – 5,169,300 Europe – 3,666,700 Latin America and Caribbean – 2,513,000 North America – 716,800 Oceania – 82,500.

Asylum seeker[edit]

Main article: Asylum seeker

An asylum seeker is a displaced person or migrant who seeks protection or at least the right to remain in another country. An asylum seeker is not necessarily a refugee and may never be granted asylum and thus not given refugee status; likewise a displaced person who would legally be entitled to refugee status may never apply for asylum, or not allowed to apply in the country they fled to and thus not be an asylum seeker. The term refugee is often used in two different contexts: 1) in everyday usage it refers to a displaced person who flees their home or country of origin, 2) in a more specific context it refers to a displaced person who was given refugee status in the country of asylum. In between these two stages the person may have been an asylum seeker. Until a request for refuge has been accepted, the person is referred to as an asylum seeker. An asylum seeker will be granted asylum, i.e. given refugee status, when the country of asylum is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee convention and agrees that the persons circumstances fall into the definition of a refugee, such as risk of persecution "on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group".[55] Only after the recognition of the asylum seeker's protection needs is he or she is officially referred to as a refugee in the more specific context and enjoys refugee status. This carries certain rights and obligations according to the legislation of the receiving country. Quota refugees do not need to apply for asylum on arrival as they were selected for resettlement by third countries and already went through the refugee status determination process in the first country of asylum.

Refugee status[edit]

There is a large difference between being a forcibly displaced person, i.e. having fled ones country of origin, and being granted "refugee status" in the country of asylum. Refugee status is given to quota refugees and can be given to asylum seekers if their application for asylum is successful. In order to be given refugee status either way a refugee has to go through a Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process, which is conducted by the government of the country of asylum or the UNHCR, and based on international, regional or national law.[56]

There is no specific method mandated for RSD (apart from the commitment to the 1951 Refugee Convention) and it is subject to the overall efficacy of the country’s internal administrative and judicial system as well as the characteristics of the refugee flow to which the country responds. This lack of a procedural direction could create a situation where political and strategic interests override humanitarian considerations in the RSD process.[57] There are also no fixed interpretations of the elements in the Refugee Convention and countries may interpret them differently.

Ideally the government of each individual country should conduct RSDs in order to enable the UNHCR to remain independent and impartial. However, in 2013, the UNHCR conducted them in more than 50 countries and co-conducted them parallel to or jointly with governments in another 20 countries, which made it the second largest RSD body in the world[56]

There is one exception to the RSD process: younger Palestinian and Sahrawi refugees have refugee status without having fled their home country themselves. They inherited the refugee status from their ancestors who were the ones forced to migrate.

Temporary protection and maintenance[edit]

Refugee camp[edit]

For over 30 years, several tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees have been living in the region of Tindouf, Algeria, in the heart of the desert.
A camp in Guinea for refugees from Sierra Leone
Erstaufnahmelager Jenfelder Moorpark
Main article: Refugee camp

A refugee camp is a place built by governments or NGOs (such as the Red Cross) to receive refugees. People may stay in these camps, receiving emergency food, education and medical aid. If it becomes safer they can make use of voluntary return programmes.[58] In some cases, often after several years, other countries decide it will never be safe for the these people to return, or to remain in the current host country, and they may be resettled in "third countries"[59] However, more often than not, refugees are neither resettled nor integrated and naturalised. In the meantime, they are at risk of disease, child soldier and terrorist recruitment, and physical and sexual violence. There are estimated to be 700 refugee camp locations worldwide.[60]

Urban refugee[edit]

Main article: Urban refugee

Not all refugees who are supported by the UNHCR live in refugee camps. A significant number, more than half, live in urban settings,[61] such as the ~60,000 Iraqi refugees in Damascus (Syria),[62] and the ~30,000 Sudanese refugees in Cairo (Egypt).[63]

Durable solutions[edit]

Rather than only safeguarding the rights and minimal well-being of refugees in the camps or in urban settings on a temporary basis the UNHCR's ultimate goal is to find one of the three durable solutions for refugees: integration, repatriation, resettlement.

Naturalisation and integration[edit]

Main article: Naturalization

In 2014 Tanzania granted citizenship to 162,000 refugees from Burundi and in 1982 to 32,000 Rwandan refugees.[64] Mexico naturalised 6,200 Guatemalan refugees in 2001.[65] In the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the State of Israel has guaranteed asylum and citizenship to Jewish refugees. Many countries, such as Syria and Kenya, rule out the integration of refugees in their country.

Voluntary return[edit]

Main article: Voluntary return

In the last couple of years parts of or even whole refugee populations were able to return to their home countries: e.g. 120,000 Congolese refugees returned from the Republic of Congo to the DRC,[66] 30,000 Angolans returned home from the DRC[67] and Botswana, Ivorian refugees returned from Liberia, Afghans from Pakistan, and Iraqis from Syria. In 2013, the governments of Kenya and Somalia also signed a tripartite agreement facilitating the repatriation of refugees from Somalia.[68] The UNHCR and the IOM offer assistance to refugees who want to return voluntarily to their home countries. Many developed countries also have Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) programmes for asylum seekers who want to go back or were refused asylum.

Third country resettlement[edit]

Resettlement involves the assisted movement of refugees who are unable to return home to safe third countries.[69][70] The UNHCR has traditionally seen resettlement as the least preferable of the "durable solutions" to refugee situations.[71] However, in April 2000 the then UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, stated "Resettlement can no longer be seen as the least-preferred durable solution; in many cases it is the only solution for refugees."[71] Politicians in some western countries have shown a preference for Christian refugees over those of other religions.[72]

Resettlement involves a number of difficulties, most of them involving the often extreme cultural transition needed to adapt to life in the country of resettlement. For the many refugees going from rural undeveloped countries to life in urban centers, public transport, education, health care systems, job applications, and even grocery shopping can be difficult to navigate. Language barriers also frequently pose a problem. Even aside from material problems, resettled refugees can struggle with issues of identity and belonging, as societal integration can be very difficult in a completely different culture, and discrimination frequently further inhibits the process.[73]

The UNHCR does recognize benefits to resettlement as well, however. On their website, they bring attention to the fact that refugees have much to bring to the countries in which they are resettled in terms of culture and labor, going as far as to say that "both refugee resettlement and general migration are now recognized as critical factors in the economic success of a number of industrialized countries."[73] According to the UNHCR, resettlement serves three primary functions: securing fundamental human rights such as "life, liberty, safety, health," etc.for refugees who are at risk in camps, providing a long-term solution to the issue of displacement for large numbers of refugees, and alleviating the burden on countries offering asylum to such displaced peoples.[74] Frequently, these countries of asylum are some of the world's poorest nations and cannot handle the large influx of persons that occur when war, persecution, or other events drive refugees across their borders into their country.[73]

Refugee rights[edit]

Main article: Refugee law

Refugee rights encompass both customary law, peremptory norms, and international legal instruments and include:

These documents and declarations include the following rights and obligations for refugees:

Right of return[edit]

Main article: Right of return

Even in a supposedly "post-conflict" environment, it is not a simple process for refugees to return home.[76] The UN Pinheiro Principles are guided by the idea that people not only have the right to return home, but also the right to the same property.[76] It seeks to return to the pre-conflict status quo and ensure that no one profits from violence. Yet this is a very complex issue and every situation is different; conflict is a highly transformative force and the pre-war status-quo can never be reestablished completely, even if that were desirable (it may have caused the conflict in the first place).[76] Therefore, the following are of particular importance to the right to return:[76]

  • may never have had property (e.g. in Afghanistan);
  • cannot access what property they have (Colombia, Guatemala, South Africa and Sudan);
  • ownership is unclear as families have expanded or split and division of the land becomes an issue;
  • death of owner may leave dependents without clear claim to the land;
  • people settled on the land know it is not theirs but have nowhere else to go (as in Colombia, Rwanda and Timor-Leste); and
  • have competing claims with others, including the state and its foreign or local business partners (as in Aceh, Angola, Colombia, Liberia and Sudan).

Refugees who were resettled to a third country will likely lose the indefinite leave to remain in this country if they return to their country of origin or the country of first asylum.

Right to non-refoulement[edit]

Main article: Non-refoulement

Non-refoulement is the right not to be returned to a place of persecution and is the foundation for international refugee law, as outlined in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.[77] The right to non-refoulement is distinct from the right to asylum. In order to respect the right to asylum states must not deport genuine refugees. In contrast, the right to non-refoulement allows states to transfer genuine refugees to third party countries with respectable human rights records. The portable procedural model, proposed by political philosopher Andy Lamey, emphasizes the right to non-refoulement by guaranteeing refugees three procedural rights (to a verbal hearing, to legal counsel, and to judicial review of detention decisions) and ensuring those rights in the constitution.[78] This proposal attempts to strike a balance between the interest of national governments and the interests of refugees.

Right to family reunification[edit]

Main article: Family reunification

Family reunification (which can also be a form of resettlement) is a recognized reason for immigration in many countries. Divided families have the right to be reunited if a family member with permanent right of residency applies for the reunification and can prove the people on the application were a family unit before arrival and wish to live as a family unit since separation. If application is successful this enables the rest of the family to immigrate to that country as well.

Right to travel[edit]

Those states that signed the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees are obliged to issue travel documents (i.e. "Convention Travel Document") to refugees lawfully residing in their territory.[79] It is a valid travel document in place of a passport, however, it cannot be used to travel to the country of origin, i.e. from where the refugee fled.

Restriction of onward movement[edit]

Once refugees or asylum seekers have found a safe place and protection of a state or territory outside their territory of origin they are discouraged from leaving again and seeking protection in another country. If they do move onward into a second country of asylum this movement is also called "irregular movement" by the UNHCR. UNHCR support in the second country may be less than in the first country and they can even be returned to the first country.[80]

Reasons for refugee crises[edit]

Environment and climate[edit]

Main article: Environmental migrant
Map showing where natural disasters caused/aggravated by climate change can occur, and where possibly environmental refugees would be created

Although they do not fit the definition of refugees set out in the UN Convention, people displaced by the effects of climate change have often been termed "climate refugees"[81] or "climate change refugees".[82] The term 'environmental refugee' is also commonly used and an estimated 25 million people can currently be classified as such.[83] The alarming predictions by the UN, charities and some environmentalists, that between 200 million and 1 billion people could flood across international borders to escape the impacts of climate change in the next 40 years are realistic.[84] Case studies from Bolivia, Senegal and Tanzania, three countries extremely prone to climate change, show that people affected by environmental degradation rarely move across borders. Instead, they adapt to new circumstances by moving short distances for short periods, often to cities.[85] Millions of people live in places that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. They face extreme weather conditions such as droughts or floods. Their lives and livelihoods might be threatened in new ways and create new vulnerabilities.[86]

Economic hardship[edit]

Main article: Economic migrant
North African immigrants in Sicily.

A "false distinction" between a forced and an economic migrant is sometimes used. It was suggested that a better term for migrants who fled for the purpose of their and their dependents' basic survival would be "forced humanitarian migrants". This would take into account that economic migrants are also somehow forced to flee. Some migrants fall outside the mandates of the support structures offered by governments and non-governmental organisations, because of this blurred distinction between "refugee" and "economic migrant".

An example to illustrate this is the 2008-2009 mass movement of Zimbabweans to neighbouring countries. Most of these migrants didn't fit in either category and have more general needs, rights and responsibilities, that fall outside the specific mandate of the UNHCR and thus between the cracks.[87] To emphasize the importance of a common humanitarian position on the outflow of Zimbabweans into the region the Regional Office for Southern Africa of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs coined the term "migrants of humanitarian concern" in 2008. Most of those crossing the border did not apply for refugee status, but they could also hardly be considered as "voluntary" economic migrants. Many of them were not legally protected, nor do they receive humanitarian support. In Botswana, Zambia and Malawi, asylum is available to Zimbabweans; in Mozambique, the few applicants for asylum had been rejected due to the state's decision to consider Zimbabweans as 'economic' and not as forced humanitarian migrants. Except for South Africa, protection and access to services in most countries in the region is contingent on receiving the refugee status, and require asylum seekers to stay in isolated camps, unable to work or travel, and thus send money to relatives that stayed behind in Zimbabwe. South Africa was considering the introduction of a special permit for Zimbabweans, but the policy was still under review.

Even economic migration requires a certain level of 'wealth' as migration is always a selective process - and the poorest and most vulnerable people are often excluded as they will find it almost impossible to move due to a lack of necessary funds or social support.[83]

Migratory routes and methods of fleeing[edit]

Boat people[edit]

Main article: Boat people
Ecuadorian refugees near Guatemala.

The term "boat people" came into common use in the 1970s with the mass exodus of Vietnamese refugees following the Vietnam War. It is a widely used form of migration for people migrating from Cuba, Haiti, Morocco, Vietnam or Albania. They often risk their lives on dangerously crude and overcrowded boats to escape oppression or poverty in their home nations. Events resulting from the Vietnam War led many people in Cambodia, Laos, and especially Vietnam to become refugees in the late 1970s and 1980s. In 2001, 353 asylum seekers sailing from Indonesia to Australia drowned when their vessel sank.

The main danger to a boat person is that the boat he or she is sailing in may actually be anything that floats and is large enough for passengers. Although such makeshift craft can result in tragedy, in 2003 a small group of 5 Cuban refugees attempted (unsuccessfully, but un-harmed) to reach Florida in a 1950s pickup truck made buoyant by oil barrels strapped to its sides.

Boat people are frequently a source of controversy in the nation they seek to immigrate to, such as the United States, New Zealand, Germany, France, Russia, Canada, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Spain and Australia. Boat people are often forcibly prevented from landing at their destination, such as under Australia's Pacific Solution (which operated from 2001 until 2008), or they are subjected to mandatory detention after their arrival.[88]

Balkan routes[edit]

Since 2015 more than 700.000 refugees and other migrants used these routes (i.e. the Eastern Balkan route and the Western Balkan route) from Greece through the Balkan to enter central European countries. Since March 2016 the Eastern route is almost closed, but the Western route is still busy.

Mediterranean routes[edit]

There are three Mediterranean routes: Eastern, Central and Western route.

Modern and contemporary refugee crises[edit]

Refugee crises can be movements of large grous of refugees, minorities or ethnic groups, but also crises after arrival or those due to not being able to start or continue the movement: crises may take place in countries of origin or departure as well as in countries of arrival. The below table shows refugee movements by region.

Refugees and people in refugee-like situations by region between 2014 and 2008
Region (UN major area) 2014














Africa 4,126,800 3,377,700 3,068,300 2,924,100 2,408,700 2,300,100 2,332,900
Asia 7,942,100 6,317,500 5,060,100 5,104,100 5,715,800 5,620,500 5,706,400
Europe 1,500,500 1,152,800 1,522,100 1,534,400 1,587,400 1,628,100 1,613,400
Latin America & Caribbean 352,700 382,000 380,700 377,800 373,900 367,400 350,300
Northern America 416,400 424,000 425,800 429,600 430,100 444,900 453,200
Oceania 46,800 45,300 41,000 34,800 33,800 35,600 33,600
Total 14,385,300 11,699,300 10,498,000 10,404,800 10,549,700 10,396,600 10,489,800

Refugee crises in Africa[edit]

Distribution of humanitarian aid at a refugee camp in Congo.

Since the 1950s, many nations in Africa have suffered civil wars and ethnic strife, thus generating a massive number of refugees of many different nationalities and ethnic groups. The number of refugees in Africa increased from 860,000 in 1968 to 6,775,000 by 1992.[96] By the end of 2004, that number had dropped to 2,748,400 refugees, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.[97] (That figure does not include internally displaced persons, who do not cross international borders and so do not fit the official definition of refugee.)

Many refugees in Africa cross into neighboring countries to find haven; often, African countries are simultaneously countries of origin for refugees and countries of asylum for other refugees. The Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, was the country of origin for 462,203 refugees at the end of 2004, but a country of asylum for 199,323 other refugees. The largest number of refugees in 2004 are from Sudan and have fled either the longstanding and recently concluded Sudanese Civil War or the War in Darfur and are located mainly in Chad, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya.


Decolonisation during the 1960s and 1970s often resulted in the mass exodus of European-descended settlers out of Africa – especially from North Africa (1.6 million European pieds noirs),[98] Congo, Mozambique and Angola.[99] By the mid-1970s, the Portugal's African territories were lost, and nearly one million Portuguese or persons of Portuguese descent left those territories (mostly Portuguese Angola and Mozambique) as destitute refugees – the retornados.[100]

The Angolan Civil War (1975–2002), one of the largest and deadliest Cold War conflicts, erupted shortly after and spread out across the newly independent country. At least one million people were killed, four million were displaced internally and another half million fled as refugees.[101]


Ugandan refugee children at a camp near Kitgum.

In the 1970s Uganda and other East African nations implemented racist policies that targeted the Asian population of the region. Uganda under Idi Amin's leadership was particularly most virulent in its anti-Asian policies, eventually resulting in the expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Uganda's Asian minority.[102] Uganda's 80,000 Asians were mostly Indians born in the country. India had refused to accept them.[103] Most of the expelled Indians eventually settled in the United Kingdom, Canada and in the United States.[104]

The Lord's Resistance Army insurgency forced many civilians to live in internally displaced person camps.

Great Lakes[edit]

In the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, over two million people fled into neighboring countries, in particular Zaire. The refugee camps were soon controlled by the former government and Hutu militants who used the camps as bases to launch attacks against the new government in Rwanda. Little action was taken to resolve the situation and the crisis did not end until Rwanda-supported rebels forced the refugees back across the border at the beginning of the First Congo War.


An estimated 2.5 million people, roughly one-third the population of the Darfur area, have been forced to flee their homes after attacks by Janjaweed Arab militia backed by Sudanese troops during the ongoing war in Darfur in western Sudan since roughly 2003.[105][106]


Main article: Refugees of Nigeria

Following Boko Haram's violence thousands of Nigerian's fled to Niger and Cameroon.

Central African Republic[edit]


There are tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees in Egypt, most of them seeking refuge from ongoing military conflicts in their home country of Sudan. Their official status as refugees is highly disputed, and they have been subject to racial discrimination and police violence. They live among a much larger population of Sudanese migrants in Egypt, more than two million people of Sudanese nationality (by most estimates; a full range is 750,000 to 4 million (FMRS 2006:5) who live in Egypt. The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants believes many more of these migrants are in fact refugees, but see little benefit in seeking recognition.

South Sudan[edit]


Returning Somali expatriates in Bosaso, Somalia (2015).

Following the outbreak of civil war in Somalia, many of the country's residents left in search of asylum. According to the UNHCR, there were around 976,500 registered refugees from the nation in adjacent states as of 2016.[107] The majority of these individuals were registered in Kenya (413,170; 326,611 in Dadaab, 54,550 in Kakuma, 32,009 in Nairobi),[108] Yemen (253,876 in UNHCR centers and urban areas),[107] and Ethiopia (213,775 in five camps in Dollo Ado).[109] Additionally, 1.1 million people were internally displaced persons (IDPs).[110] Most of the IDPs were Bantus and other ethnic minorities originating from the southern regions, including those displaced in the north.[111] An estimated 60% of the IDPs were children.[112] Causes of the displacement included armed violence, diverted aid flows and natural disasters, which hindered the IDPs' access to safe shelter and resources.[113] IDP settlements were concentrated in south-central Somalia (893,000), followed by the northern Puntland (129,000) and Somaliland (84,000) regions.[112] Additionally, there were around 9,356 registered refugees and 11,157 registered asylum seekers in Somalia.[107] Most of these foreign nationals emigrated from Yemen to northern Somalia after the Houthi insurgency in 2015.[114]

Western Sahara[edit]

Main article: Sahrawi refugee camps
Saharawi refugee women with flour in Dakhla, southwestern Algeria (2004).

It is estimated that between 165,000 – 200,000 Sahrawis – people from the disputed territory of Western Sahara – have lived in five large refugee camps near Tindouf in the Algerian part of the Sahara Desert since 1975.[115][116] The UNHCR and WFP are presently engaged in supporting what they describe as the "90,000 most vulnerable" refugees, giving no estimate for total refugee numbers.[117]


Refugees of the 2011 Libyan civil war are the people, predominantly of Libyan nationality, who fled or were expelled from their homes during the 2011 Libyan civil war, from within the borders of Libya to the neighbouring states of Tunisia, Egypt and Chad, as well as to European countries, across the Mediterranean, as Boat people. The majority of Libyan refugees are Arabs and Berbers, though many of other ethnicities, temporarily living in Libya, originated from sub-Saharan Africa, were also among the first refugee waves to exit the country. The total Libyan refugee numbers are estimated at near one million as of June 2011. About half of them had returned to Libyan territory during summer 2011, though large refugee camps on Tunisian and Chad border kept being overpopulated.

Refugee crises in the Americas[edit]

El Salvador[edit]

Colombian refugees receiving humanitarian assistance.

More than one million Salvadorans were displaced during the Salvadoran Civil War from 1975 to 1982. About half went to the United States, most settling in the Los Angeles area.


There was also a large exodus of Guatemalans during the 1980s, trying to escape from the civil war there as well. These people went to Southern Mexico and the U.S.


From 1991 through 1994, following the military coup d'état against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, thousands of Haitians fled violence and repression by boat. Although most were repatriated to Haiti by the U.S. government, others entered the United States as refugees. Haitians were primarily regarded as economic migrants from the grinding poverty of Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.


See also: Mariel boatlift

The victory of the forces led by Fidel Castro in the Cuban Revolution led to a large exodus of Cubans between 1959 and 1980. Thousands of Cubans yearly continue to risk the waters of the Straits of Florida seeking better economic and political conditions in the U.S. In 1999 the highly publicized case of six-year-old Elián González brought the covert migration to international attention. Measures by both governments have attempted to address the issue. The U.S. government instituted a wet feet, dry feet policy allowing refuge to those travelers who manage to complete their journey, and the Cuban government has periodically allowed for mass migration by organizing leaving posts. The most famous of these agreed migrations was the Mariel boatlift of 1980.


Colombia has one of the world's largest populations of internally displaced persons (IDPs), with estimates ranging from 2.6 to 4.3 million people, due to the ongoing Colombian armed conflict. The larger figure is cumulative since 1985.[118][119] It is now estimated by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants that there are about 150,000 Colombians in "refugee-like situations" in the United States, not recognized as refugees or subject to any formal protection.

United States[edit]

A boat crowded with Cuban refugees arrives in Key West, Florida, during the 1980 Mariel Boatlift.

During the Vietnam War, many U.S. citizens who were conscientious objectors and wished to avoid the draft sought political asylum in Canada. President Jimmy Carter issued an amnesty. Since 1975, the U.S. has resettled approximately 2.6 million refugees, with nearly 77% being either Indochinese or citizens of the former Soviet Union. Since the enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980, annual admissions figures have ranged from a high of 207,116 in 1980 to a low of 27,100 in 2002.

Currently, nine national voluntary agencies resettle refugees nationwide on behalf of the U.S. government: Church World Service, Ethiopian Community Development Council, Episcopal Migration Ministries, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, International Rescue Committee, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and World Relief.

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA (JRS/USA) has worked to help resettle Bhutanese refugees in the United States. The mission of JRS/USA is to accompany, serve and defend the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. JRS/USA is one of 10 geographic regions of Jesuit Refugee Service, an international Catholic organization sponsored by the Society of Jesus. In coordination with JRS's International Office in Rome, JRS/USA provides advocacy, financial and human resources for JRS regions throughout the world.

The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) funds a number of organizations that provide technical assistance to voluntary agencies and local refugee resettlement organizations.[120] RefugeeWorks, headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, is ORR's training and technical assistance arm for employment and self-sufficiency activities, for example. This nonprofit organization assists refugee service providers in their efforts to help refugees achieve self-sufficiency. RefugeeWorks publishes white papers, newsletters and reports on refugee employment topics.[121]

The US government position on refugees states that there is repression of religious minorities in the Middle East and in Pakistan such as Christians, Hindus, as well as Ahmadi, and Zikri denominations of Islam. In Sudan, where Islam is the state religion, Muslims dominate the government and restrict activities of Christians, practitioners of traditional African indigenous religions and other non-Muslims.[122] The question of Jewish, Christian and other refugees from Arab and Muslim countries was introduced in March 2007 in the US Congress.[123]

Refugee crises in Asia[edit]


Main article: Afghan refugees
Afghan refugees in France, 2010

From the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 until the late 2001 US-led invasion, about six million Afghan refugees have fled to neighboring Pakistan and Iran, making Afghanistan the largest refugee-producing country. Since early 2002, more than 5 million Afghan refugees have repatriated through the UNHCR from both Pakistan and Iran back to their native country, Afghanistan.[124] Approximately 3.5 million from Pakistan[125] while the remaining 1.5 million from Iran. Since 2007 the Iranian government has forcibly deported mostly unregistered (and some registered) Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan, with 362,000 being deported in 2008.[126]

As of March 2009, some 1.7 million registered Afghan refugees still remain in Pakistan. This include the many who were born in Pakistan during the last 30 years but still counted as citizens of Afghanistan. They are allowed to work and study until the end of 2012.[127] 935,600 registered Afghans are living in Iran, which also include the ones born inside Iran.[128]

The 2011 industrialized country asylum data notes a 30% increase in applications from Afghans from 2010 to 2011, primarily towards Germany and Turkey.[129] As of November 2012, there were still 1.8 million Afghans living in Pakistan given both security and economic instability in their home country. However, the country that for decades has hosted Afghan refugees has become the site of extensive military activity that has displaced Pakistanis internally as well as back and forth into Afghanistan. In recent years political momentum has also been building in Pakistan to compel Afghan refugees to repatriate. In July 2012, the Pakistani government announced it would not renew the ID cards of registered Afghan refugees, and as of January 2013, will treat them as illegal immigrants.


Since the beginning US military intervention against the Taliban in Pakistan over 1.2 million people have been displaced in across the country, joined by a further 555,000 Pakistanis uprooted by fighting since August 2008.


The Partition of 1947[edit]
Main article: Partition of India
Overcrowded train transferring refugees during the partition of India, 1947. This was considered to be the largest migration in human history.

The partition of the British Raj provinces of Panjab and Bengal and the subsequent independence of Pakistan and one day later of India in 1947 resulted in the largest human movement in history. In this population exchange, approximately 7 million Hindus and Sikhs from Bangladesh and Pakistan moved to India while approximately 7 million Muslims from India moved to Pakistan. Approximately one million Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs died during this event.[citation needed]


As a result of the Bangladesh Liberation War, on 27 March 1971, Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, expressed full support of her Government to the Bangladeshi struggle for freedom. The Bangladesh-India border was opened to allow panic-stricken Bangladeshis' safe shelter in India. The governments of West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura established refugee camps along the border. Exiled Bangladeshi army officers and the Indian military immediately started using these camps for recruitment and training members of Mukti Bahini. During the Bangladesh War of Independence around 10 million Bangladeshis fled the country to escape the killings and atrocities committed by the Pakistan Army. Bangladeshi refugees are known as '"Chakmas"' in India.other than chakmas there are Bengali Hindu refugee are also there who remain in India after war.

Sri Lankans[edit]

The civil war in Sri Lanka, from 1983 to 2009 had generated thousands of internally displaced people as well as refugees most of them being the Tamils. Many Sri Lankans have fled to neighbourly India and western countries such as Canada, France, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

While successive policies of discrimination and intimidation of the Tamils drove thousands to flee seeking asylum, the brutal end to the Civil War and the ongoing repression have forced a wave of thousands of refugees migrate,[130] to countries like Canada, the UK and especially Australia. Australia in particular, receives hundreds of refugees every month.

About 69,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees live in 112 camps in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.[131]

Jammu and Kashmir[edit]

According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), about 300,000 Hindu Kashmiri Pandits have been forced to leave the state of Jammu and Kashmir due to Islamic militancy and religious discrimination from the Muslim majority, making them refugees in their own country.[132] Some have found refuge in Jammu and its adjoining areas, while others in camps in Delhi and others in other states of India and other countries too. Kashmiri groups peg the number of migrants closer to 500,000.[133]


During the period of united Pakistan (1947–1971), the Urdu-speaking Biharis did not assimilated themselves into the society of Bangladesh and remained a distinct cultural-linguistic group ever since. Due to being a different linguistic group they were assaulted by Bengalis after the Bangladesh Liberation War the 1971 war because of their active participation along with the Pakistani armed forces in committing genocide over the local populace. Some atrocities took place against Biharis but even after 1971 they are still living in Bangladesh while opting to be a repatriated to Pakistan. At the end of the war many Biharis took shelter in refugee camps in different cities, the biggest being the Geneva Camp in Dhaka. It is estimated that about 250,000 Biharis are living in those camps and in Rangpur and Dinajpur districts today.


Tamil refugees in Sri Lanka.

Bangladesh hosts more than 250,000 Muslim Rohingya refugees forced from western Burma (Myanmar) who fled in 1991-92 to escape persecution by the Burmese military junta.[134] Many have lived there for close to twenty years. The Bangladeshi government divides the Rohingya into two categories – recognized refugees living in official camps and unrecognized refugees living in unofficial sites or among Bangladeshi communities. Around 30,000 Rohingyas are residing in two camps in Nayapara and Kutupalong area of Cox's Bazar district in Bangladesh. These camp residents have access to basic services, those outside do not. With no changes inside Burma in sight, Bangladesh must come to terms with the long-term needs of all the Rohingya refugees in the country, and allow international organizations to expand services that benefit the Rohingya as well as local communities.

The agency has been supporting Rohingya refugees staying in the camps. On the other hand, it is not receiving applications for refugee status from the newly arrived Rohingyas. This amounts to compromising of its mandate. The brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Arakan State by the Burmese military in 1991-92 thousands of people have been detained in crowded refugee camps in Bangladesh and tens of thousands have been repatriated to Burma to face further repression. There are widespread allegations of religious persecution, use of forced labor and denial of citizenship of many Rohingya forced to return to Burma since 1996. Many have fled again to Bangladesh to seek work or shelter, or flee from Burmese military oppression, and some are forced across the border by Burmese security forces. In the past few months, abuses against Rohingya in Arakan State has continued, including strict registration laws that continue to deny Rohingya citizenship, restrictions on movement, land confiscation and forced evictions to make way for Buddhist Burmese settlements, widespread forced labor in infrastructure projects and closure of some mosques, including nine in North Buthidaung Township of Western Arakan State in the last half of 2006.[135][136][137]

An estimated 90,000 people have been displaced in the 2012 sectarian violence between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in Burma's western Rakhine State.[138]

There are also large number of Muslim Rohingya refugees in Pakistan. Most of them have made perilous journey across Bangladesh and India and have settled in Karachi.


Bhutanese of Nepali origin who fled to Nepal in the early 1990s.

After the 1959 Tibetan exodus, there are more than 150,000 Tibetans who live in India, many in settlements in Dharamsala and Mysore, and Nepal. These include people who have escaped over the Himalayas from Tibet, as well as their children and grandchildren. In India the overwhelming majority of Tibetans born in India are still stateless and carry a document called an Identity Card issued by the Indian government in lieu of a passport. This document states the nationality of the holder as Tibetan. It is a document that is frequently rejected as a valid travel document by many customs and immigrations departments. The Tibetan refugees also own a Green Book issued by the Tibetan Government in Exile for rights and duties towards this administration.

In 1991–92, Bhutan expelled roughly 100,000 ethnic Nepalis known as Lhotshampas from the southern part of the country. Most of them have been living in seven refugee camps run by UNHCR in eastern Nepal ever since; some of them resettled in India. In March 2008, this population began a multiyear resettlement to third countries including the United States, New Zealand, Denmark, Canada, Norway and Australia. At present, the United States is working towards resettling more than 60,000 of these refugees in the US as a third country settlement programme.[139]

Meanwhile, as many as 200,000 Nepalese were displaced during the Maoist insurgency and Nepalese Civil War which ended in 2006.

By 2009, more than 3 million civilians had been displaced by the War in North-West Pakistan (2004–present).[140]


Since 1991, much of the country's non-Muslim population, including non-ethnic Tajikistan's Russians and Bukharian Jews, have fled Tajikistan due to severe poverty, instability and Tajikistan Civil War (1992–1997). In 1992, most of the country's Jewish population was evacuated to Israel.[141] Most of the ethnic Russian population fled to Russia. By the end of the civil war Tajikistan was in a state of complete devastation. Around 1.2 million people were refugees inside and outside of the country.[142] Due to severe poverty a lot of Tajiks had to migrate to Russia.47% of Tajikistan's GDP comes from immigrant remittances (from Tajiks working in Russia).[143][144]


In 1989, after bloody pogroms against the Meskhetian Turks in Central Asia's Ferghana Valley, nearly 90,000 Meskhetian Turks left Uzbekistan.[145][146]

The 2010 ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan left some 300,000 people internally displaced, and around 100,000 sought refuge in Uzbekistan.[147]

Southeast Asia (Vietnam War)[edit]

Vietnamese boat people, 1984.

Following the communist takeovers in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in 1975, about three million people attempted to escape in the subsequent decades. With massive influx of refugees daily, the resources of the receiving countries were severely strained. The plight of the boat people became an international humanitarian crisis. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) set up refugee camps in neighboring countries to process the boat people. The budget of the UNHCR increased from $80 million in 1975 to $500 million in 1980. Partly for its work in Indochina, the UNHCR was awarded the 1981 Nobel Peace Prize.

  • Large numbers of Vietnamese refugees came into existence after 1975 when South Vietnam fell to the communist forces. Many tried to escape, some by boat, thus giving rise to the phrase "boat people". The Vietnamese refugees emigrated to Hong Kong, France, the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries, creating sizeable expatriate communities, notably in the United States. Since 1975, an estimated 1.4 million refugees from Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries have been resettled to the United States.[148] Most Asian countries were unwilling to accept refugees.[149]
  • Survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia fled across the border into Thailand after the Vietnamese invasion of 1978–79. Approximately 300,000 of these people were eventually resettled in the United States, France, Canada, and Australia between 1979 and 1992, when the camps were closed and the remaining people repatriated.
  • Nearly 400,000 Laotians fled to Thailand after the Vietnam War and communist takeover in 1975. Some left because of persecution by the government for religious or ethnic purposes. Most left between 1976 and 1985 and lived in refugee camps along the border between Thailand and Laos. They mostly settled in the United States, Canada, France, and Australia. In the United States they mostly settled in Washington State, California, Washington, D.C., Texas, Virginia, and Minnesota.
  • The Mien or Yao recently lived in northern Vietnam, northern Laos and northern Thailand. In 1975, the Pathet Lao forces began seeking reprisal for the involvement of many Mien as soldiers in the CIA-sponsored militias in the Laotian Civil War. As a token of appreciation to the Mien and Hmong people who served in the CIA secret army, the United States accepted many of the refugees as naturalized citizens (Mien American). Many more Hmong continue to seek asylum in neighboring Thailand.[150]
  • Due to the persecution of the ethnic Karen, Karenni and other minority populations in Burma (Myanmar) significant numbers of refugees live along the Thai border in camps of up to 100,000 people. Since 2006,[151] over 55,000 Burmese refugees have been resettled in the United States.[152]
  • Muslim ethnic groups supposed to be from Burma, the Rohingya and other Arakanese have been living in camps in Bangladesh since the 1990s. Both Bangladesh and Burma claimed that the Rohingya are not their citizens.[153][154]

Refugee crises in Europe[edit]

Jewish refugees[edit]

Further information: Jewish refugees

Between the first and second world wars, hundreds of thousands of European Jews, mainly from Germany and Austria attempted to flee the German government's anti-semitic policies which culminated in the Holocaust and the mass murder of millions of European Jews. These Jews were often found it difficult or impossible to immigrate to other European countries. The 1938 Evian Conference, the 1943 Bermuda Conference and other attempts failed to resolve the problem of Jewish refugees, a fact widely used in Nazi propaganda (see also MS St. Louis).

Since its founding at the beginning of the 1900s Jewish immigration to the British Mandate for Palestine was encouraged by the nascent Zionist movement, but immigration was restricted by the British government, under the pressure from Palestinian Arabs. Following its formation in 1948, according to 1947 UN Partition Plan, Israel adopted the Law of Return, granting Israeli citizenship to any Jewish immigrant. Mass rioting and attacks on Jews throughout the Muslim World following the creation of the state of Israel led to the Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries, in which 850,000 Jews from Arab and Muslim countries fled to Israel between 1948 and the early 1970s.[155][156]

European Union[edit]

According to the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, a network of European refugee-assisting non-governmental organizations (NGOs), huge differences exist between national asylum systems in Europe, making the asylum system a 'lottery' for refugees. For example, Iraqis who flee their home country and end up in Germany have an 85% chance of being recognised as a refugee and those who apply for asylum in Slovenia do not get a protection status at all.[157]

United Kingdom[edit]

In the United Kingdom the Asylum Support Partnership was created to enable all the agencies working to support and assist Asluym Seekers in making Asylum claims was established in 2012 and is part funded by the home office.[158]


In 2010, President Nicolas Sarkozy began the systematic dismantling of illegal Romani camps and squats in France, deporting thousands of Roma residing in France illegally to Romania, Bulgaria or elsewhere.[159]


In 1956–57 following the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 nearly 200,000 persons, about two percent of the population of Hungary, fled as refugees to Austria and West Germany.[160]


The Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was followed by a wave of emigration, unseen before. It stopped shortly after (estimate: 70,000 immediately, 300,000 in total).[161]

Southeastern Europe[edit]

Following the Greek Civil War (1946–1949) hundreds of thousands of Greeks and Ethnic Macedonians were expelled or fled the country. The number of refugees ranged from 35,000 to over 213,000. Over 28,000 children were evacuated by the Partisans to the Eastern Bloc and the Socialist Republic of Macedonia. This left thousands of Greeks and Aegean Macedonians spread across the world.

The forced assimilation campaign of the late 1980s directed against ethnic Turks resulted in the emigration of some 300,000 Bulgarian Turks to Turkey.

Refugees arrive in Travnik, central Bosnia, during the Yugoslav wars, 1993.

Beginning in 1991, political upheavals in Southeastern Europe such as the breakup of Yugoslavia, displaced about 2,700,000 people by mid-1992, of which over 700,000 of them sought asylum in European Union member states.[162][163] In 1999, about one million Albanians escaped from Serbian persecution.

Today there are still thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons in Southeastern Europe who cannot return to their homes. Most of them are Serbs who cannot return to Kosovo, and who still live in refugee camps in Serbia today. Over 200,000 Serbs and other non-Albanian minorities fled or were expelled from Kosovo after the Kosovo War in 1999.[164][165]

In 2009, between 7% and 7.5% of Serbia's population were refugees and IDPs. Around 500,000 refugees, mainly from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, arrived following the Yugoslav wars. The IDPs were primarily from Kosovo.[166] As of 2007, Serbia had the largest refugee population in Europe.[167]


Main article: Chechen refugees

Since 1992, ongoing conflict has taken place in the North Caucasus region of Russia. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chechnya broke away and became a de facto independent state. This move was not recognized by the Russian Federation, which invaded, leading to the first Chechen war. As a consequence, about 2 million people have been displaced and still cannot return to their homes. Due to widespread lawlessness and ethnic cleansing under the government of Dzhokhar Dudayev most non-Chechens (and many Chechens as well) fled the country during the 1990s or were killed.[168][169]

Nagorno Karabakh[edit]

Internally displaced Azerbaijanis from Nagorno-Karabakh, 1993.

The Nagorno Karabakh conflict has resulted in the displacement of 528,000 Azerbaijanis (this figure does not include new born children of these IDPs) from Armenian occupied territories including Nagorno Karabakh, and 220,000 Azeris and 18,000 Kurds fled from Armenia to Azerbaijan from 1988 to 1989.[170] 280,000 persons—virtually all ethnic Armenians—fled Azerbaijan during the 1988–1993 war over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.[171] By the time both Azerbaijan and Armenia had finally agreed to a ceasefire in 1994, an estimated 17,000 people had been killed, 50,000 had been injured, and over a million had been displaced.[172]


More than 250,000 people, mostly Georgians but some others too, were the victims of forcible displacement and ethnic-cleansing from Abkhazia during the War in Abkhazia between 1992 and 1993, and afterwards in 1993 and 1998.[173]

As a result of 1991–1992 South Ossetia War, about 100,000 ethnic Ossetians fled South Ossetia and Georgia proper, most across the border into Russian North Ossetia. A further 23,000 ethnic Georgians fled South Ossetia and settled in other parts of Georgia.[174]

The United Nations estimated 100,000 Georgians have been uprooted as a result of the 2008 South Ossetia war; some 30,000 residents of South Ossetia fled into the neighboring Russian province of North Ossetia.[175]


Destroyed house in Donbass, Ukraine, 22 July 2014

According to the United Nations (UNHCR's European director Vincent Cochetel), 814,000 Ukrainians have fled to Russia since the beginning of 2014, including those who did not register as asylum seekers, and 260,000 left to other parts of Ukraine.[176] However, also quoting UNHCR, Deutsche Welle says 197,000 Ukrainians fled to Russia by 20 August 2014 and not less than 190,000 have fled to other parts of Ukraine, 14,000 to Belarus and 14,000 to Poland.[177][178] In Russia many were resettled in specially built refugee villages in Siberia. Russia also registered 2 million new citizens of Ukraine in October 2015, who had arrived since 1 January 2014.[citation needed]

Refugee crises in the Near and Middle East[edit]

Population exchange between Greece and Turkey[edit]

The 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey was stemmed from the "Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations" signed at Lausanne, Switzerland, on 30 January 1923, by the governments of Greece and the Republic of Turkey. It involved approximately 2 million people (around 1.5 million Anatolian Greeks and 500,000 Muslims in Greece), most of whom were forcibly made refugees and de jure denaturalized from their homelands.

By the end of 1922, the vast majority of native Asia Minor Greeks had already fled the Greek genocide (1914–1922) and Greece's later defeat in the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922).[179] According to some calculations, during the autumn of 1922, around 900,000 Greeks arrived in Greece.[180] The population exchange was envisioned by Turkey as a way to formalize, and make permanent, the exodus of Greeks from Turkey, while initiating a new exodus of a smaller number of Muslims from Greece to supply settlers for occupying the newly depopulated regions of Turkey, while Greece saw it as a way to supply its masses of new propertyless Greek refugees from Turkey with lands to settle from the exchanged Muslims of Greece.[181]

This major compulsory population exchange, or agreed mutual expulsion, was based not on language or ethnicity, but upon religious identity, and involved nearly all the Orthodox Christian citizens of Turkey, including its native Turkish-speaking Orthodox citizens, and most of the Muslim citizens of Greece, including its native Greek-speaking Muslim citizens.


Further information: Palestinian refugees
Palestinian refugees leaving the Galilee in October–November 1948

A heavy exodus of the non-Jewish population of Palestine took place in 1948. Though usually described as byproduct of the 1948 Palestine war, the first and largest wave of Palestinian refugees took place in early 1948, shortly after the Deir Yassin massacre—preceding, therefore, said war,[182] with expulsions of Palestinians continuing to happen for some years thereafter. According to files belonging to the Israeli army that came under the attention of Israeli historians such as Benny Morris, the overwhelming majority (about 73%) of Palestinian refugees left as a result of actions undertaken by Zionist militias and Jewish authorities, with a smaller percentage, about 5%, leaving voluntarily.[183][184][185] By the end of 1948, there were about 700,000 Palestinian refugees.[182]

Following the departure of refugees, properties, lands, money, and bank accounts belonging to Palestinians were frozen and confiscated.[186] Jewish ownership of the land, which by late 1947 accounted for less than 6% of historic Palestine and less than 10% of the territory the UN allotted to the Jewish state, swelled.[187]

Dispossession and displacement of Palestinians continued in the decades after Israel's independence, and renewal of conflicts between Israel and its neighbors. During the 1967 war, about 400,000 Palestinians, half of whom were 1948 refugees, fled their lands in the West Bank following advances by the Israeli army and settled in Jordan.[188] In the 2000s, Israel blacklisted the refugees from that war to impede them from returning and reclaiming their properties and lands, which have been allocated to Jewish-only settlements and Israeli military bases.[189] Israel has also admitted to revoking the residency rights of 250,000 Palestinians in the occupied territories in the period between 1967 and 1994, the year of the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, after they left temporarily to study and work abroad.[190]

Palestinian refugees and their descendents spread throughout the Arab world; the largest populations are found in neighboring Levantine countries—Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The populations of the West Bank and Gaza are also composed to a large extent of refugees and their descendents.[191] Until 1967, the West Bank and Gaza were officially ruled, respectively, by Jordan and Egypt. Jordan's Hashemite Kingdom was the only Arab government to have granted citizenship to Palestinian refugees.

Kalandia refugee camp, West Bank

Palestinian refugees from 1948 and their descendants do not come under the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, but under the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which created its own criteria for refugee classification. The great majority of Palestinian refugees have kept the refugee status for generations, under a special decree of the UN,[192][193] and legally defined to include descendants of refugees, as well as others who might otherwise be considered internally displaced persons.[citation needed]

As of December 2005, the World Refugee Survey of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants estimates the total number of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to be 2,966,100. Palestinian refugees number almost half of Jordan's population, however they have assimilated into Jordanian society, having a full citizenship. In Syria, though not officially becoming citizens, most of the Palestinian refugees were granted resident rights and issued travel documents. Following the Oslo Agreements, attempts were made to integrate the displaced Palestinians and their descendants into the Palestinian community. In addition, Israel granted permissions for family reunions and return of only about 10,000 Fatah members to the West Bank. The refugee situation and the presence of numerous refugee camps continues to be a point of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jews of Arab and Muslim countries[edit]

Yemenite Jews en route from Aden to Israel, during the Magic Carpet operation (1949–1950)

Following the Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries, the combined population of Jewish communities of the Middle East (excluding Israel) and North Africa was reduced from about 900,000 in 1948 to less than 8,000 today. The history of the exodus is politicized, given its proposed relevance to a final settlement Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.[194][195][196][197][198][199][200] When presenting the history, those who view the Jewish exodus as equivalent to the 1948 Palestinian exodus, such as the Israeli government and NGOs such as JJAC and JIMENA, emphasize "push factors", such as cases of anti-Jewish violence and forced expulsions,[194] and refer to those affected as "refugees".[194] Those who argue that the exodus does not equate to the 1948 Palestinian exodus emphasize "pull factors", such as the actions of local Zionist agents aiming to fulfil the One Million Plan,[196] highlight good relations between the Jewish communities and their country's governments,[198] emphasize the impact of other push factors such as the decolonization in the Maghreb and the Suez War and Lavon Affair in Egypt,[198] and argue that many or all of those who left were not refugees.[194][196]

Israel absorbed approximately 600,000 Jews from Arab and Muslim countries, many of whom were temporarily settled in tent cities called Ma'abarot. They were eventually absorbed into Israeli society, and the last Ma'abarah was dismantled in 1958. By contrast European Jews were quickly settled in Israel. Their descendants, and those of Iranian and Turkish Jews, now number 3.06 million of Israel's 5.4 to 5.8 million Jewish citizens.[201]

In 2007, both the US Senate and House of Representatives passed simple resolutions H.Res. 185 and S.Res. 85 to

Make clear that the United States Government supports the position that, as an integral part of any comprehensive peace, the issue of refugees and the mass violations of human rights of minorities in Arab and Muslim countries throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf must be resolved in a manner that includes (A) consideration of the legitimate rights of all refugees displaced from Arab and Muslim countries throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf; and (B) recognition of the losses incurred by Jews, Christians, and other minority groups as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict.[202]

Ma'abara near Nahariya (northern Israel), 1952.

The resolutions had been written together with lobbyist group JJAC,[203] whose founder Stanley Urman described the resolution in 2009 as "perhaps our most significant accomplishment".[204] The House of Representatives resolution was sponsored by AIPAC-member Jerrold L. Nadler.[205] Fischbach (2008) explains the resolutions as "a tactic to help the Israeli government deflect Palestinian refugee claims in any final Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, claims that include Palestinian refugees’ demand for the "right of return" to their pre-1948 homes in Israel."[206]

Other Israeli academics and leaders[207] state that Oriental Jews did not come to Israel as refugees, pointing out that many decided to migrate despite leading comfortable lives[208] in the Arab world and arrived to Israel under the directive of underground Zionist activists acting on behalf of the Israeli state.[209]

Some Arab countries, like Iraq, did take a number of measures against Jews who left the country, including the confiscation of assets left behind,[210] though the initial act of Jewish departure was, according to Israeli-Iraqi historian Avi Shlaim, undertaken voluntarily.[211]

Internally displaced Syrians from the Golan Heights[edit]

After the 1967 war, when Israel launched pre-emptive attacks on Egypt and Syrian and annexed the Golan Heights. Israel destroyed 139 Syrian villages in the occupied territory of the Golan Heights and 130,000 of its residents fled or were expelled from their lands, which now serve the purpose of settlements and military bases. About 9,000 Syrians, all of whom of the Druze ethno-religious group, were allowed to remain in their lands.[212]

Cyprus crisis of 1974[edit]

It is estimated that 40% of the Greek population of Cyprus, as well as over half of the Turkish Cypriot population, were displaced during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. The figures for internally displaced Cypriots varies, the United Peacekeeping force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) estimates 165,000 Greek Cypriots and 45,000 Turkish Cypriots. The UNHCR registers slightly higher figures of 200,000 and 65,000 respectively, being partly based on official Cypriot statistics which register children of displaced families as refugees.[213] The separation of the two communities via the UN patrolled Green Line prohibited the return of all internally displaced people.

Lebanon Civil War crisis[edit]

Lebanese refugees in south Lebanon, 2006

It is estimated that some 900,000 people, representing one-fifth of the pre-war population, were displaced from their homes during the Lebanese Civil War (1975–90).[214]

Kurdish population displacement due to Turkish conflict[edit]

Main article: Kurdish refugees
Refugees in Turkey

Between 1984 and 1999, the Turkish Armed Forces and various groups claiming to represent the Kurdish people have engaged in open war, and much of the countryside in the southeast was depopulated, with Kurdish civilians moving to local defensible centers such as Diyarbakır, Van, and Şırnak, as well as to the cities of western Turkey and even to western Europe. The causes of the depopulation included Kurdistan Workers' Party atrocities against Kurdish clans they could not control, the poverty of the southeast, and the Turkish state's military operations.[215] Human Rights Watch has documented many instances where the Turkish military forcibly evacuated villages, destroying houses and equipment to prevent the return of the inhabitants. An estimated 3,000 Kurdish villages in Turkey were virtually wiped from the map, representing the displacement of more than 378,000 people.[216][217][218][219]

Iran-Iraq war[edit]

The Iran–Iraq War from 1980 to 1988, the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the first Gulf War and subsequent conflicts all generated hundreds of thousands if not millions of refugees. Iran also provided asylum for 1,400,000 Iraqi refugees who had been uprooted as a result of the 1991 uprisings in Iraq (1990–91). At least one million Iraqi Kurds were displaced during the Al-Anfal Campaign (1986–1989).

Refugees of the Gulf War[edit]

The Palestinian exodus from Kuwait took place during and after the Gulf War. There were 400,000 Palestinians in Kuwait before the Gulf War. During the Gulf War, more than 200,000 Palestinians fled Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait due to harassment and intimidation by Iraqi security forces,[220] in addition to getting fired from work by Iraqi authority figures in Kuwait.[220] After the Gulf War in 1991, Kuwaiti authorities pressured nearly 200,000 Palestinians to leave Kuwait.[221] The policy which partly led to this exodus was a response to the alignment of PLO leader Yasser Arafat with Saddam Hussein.

Iraq War (2003–today)[edit]

The Iraq war has generated millions of refugees and internally displaced persons. As of 2007 more Iraqis have lost their homes and become refugees than the population of any other country. Over 4,700,000 people, more than 16% of the Iraqi population, have become uprooted.[222] Of these, about 2 million have fled Iraq and flooded other countries, and 2.7 million are estimated to be refugees inside Iraq, with nearly 100,000 Iraqis fleeing to Syria and Jordan each month.[223][224][225] Only 1% of the total Iraqi displaced population was estimated to be in the Western countries.[226]

Roughly 40% of Iraq's middle class is believed to have fled, the U.N. said. Most are fleeing systematic persecution and have no desire to return. All kinds of people, from university professors to bakers, have been targeted by militias, insurgents and criminals. An estimated 331 school teachers were slain in the first four months of 2006, according to Human Rights Watch, and at least 2,000 Iraqi doctors have been killed and 250 kidnapped since the 2003 U.S. invasion.[227] Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan live in impoverished communities with little international attention to their plight and little legal protection.[228] In Syria alone an estimated 50,000 Iraqi girls and women, many of them widows, are forced into prostitution just to survive.[229][230]

According to Washington-based Refugees International, out of the 4.2 million refugees fewer than 800 have been allowed into the US since the 2003 invasion. Sweden had accepted 18,000 and Australia had resettled almost 6,000.[231] By 2006 Sweden had granted protection to more Iraqis than all the other EU Member States combined. However, and following repeated unanswered calls to its European partners for greater solidarity, July 2007 saw Sweden introduce a more restrictive policy towards Iraqi asylum seekers, which is expected to reduce the recognition rate in 2008.[232]

As of September 2007 Syria had decided to implement a strict visa regime to limit the number of Iraqis entering the country at up to 5,000 per day, cutting the only accessible escape route for thousands of refugees fleeing the civil war in Iraq. A government decree that took effect on 10 September 2007 bars Iraqi passport holders from entering Syria except for businessmen and academics. Until then, the Syria was the only country that had resisted strict entry regulations for Iraqis.[233][234]

In June 2014, More than 500,000 people fled Mosul to escape from the advancing Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).[235]

Mandaeans and Yazidis[edit]

Furthermore, the small Mandaean and Yazidi communities are at the risk of elimination due to ethnic cleansing by Islamic militants.[236][237] Entire neighborhoods in Baghdad were ethnically cleansed by Shia and Sunni Militias.[238][239] Satellite shows ethnic cleansing in Iraq was key factor in "surge" success.[240]

Refugees in Jordan[edit]
Za'atri camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan

Jordan has one of the world's largest immigrant populations with some sources putting the immigrant percentage to being 60%. Iraqi refugees number between 750,000 and 1 million in Jordan with most living in Amman.[citation needed] Jordan also has Armenian, Chechen, Circassian minorities, and about half of its population is said to be of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

Syrian refugees[edit]

To escape the violence, nearly 4,088,078 Syrian refugees have fled the country to neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.[241]

African refugees in Israel[edit]

Demonstration against the expulsion of refugees and their families from Israel in Tel Aviv, 2009

Since 2003, an estimated 70,000 immigrants arrived illegally from various African countries into Israel.[242] Some 600 refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan have been granted temporary resident status that is to be renewed every year, although not official refugee status.[243] Another 2,000 refugees from the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia have been granted temporary resident status on humanitarian grounds. Israel prefers not to recognize them as refugees so as not to offend Eritrea and Ethiopia. The Sudanese, who are from an enemy state, are also not recognized as refugees. In effect, Israeli politicians, including the current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have referred to the refugees as a threat to Israel's "Jewish character".[244] African refugees are sometimes subject to racism and racial riots, as well as physical assaults. These assaults have been occurring in Israel, especially in southern Tel Aviv since mid-2012.[245]

Over the past years, conflicts have occurred between Israelis and African immigrants in southern Tel-Aviv, mostly due to poverty issues on both sides. Locals accuse African immigrants of rape,[246] Stealing[247] and assault, making racial issues emerge in the southern part of Tel-Aviv, which became an immigrant-populated area.

In 2012, Reuters reported that Israel may jail "illegal immigrants" for up to three years under a law put into effect to stem the flow of Africans across the desert border with Egypt.[248] Netanyahu said in effect that, "If we don't stop their entry, the problem that currently stands at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threatens our existence as a uniquely Jewish and democratic state."[249]

International attitude to refugees[edit]

World Refugee Day[edit]

Main article: World Refugee Day

World Refugee Day occurs on 20 June. The day was created in 2000 by a special United Nations General Assembly Resolution. 20 June had previously been commemorated as African Refugee Day in a number of African countries.

In the United Kingdom World Refugee Day is celebrated as part of Refugee week. Refugee Week is a nationwide festival designed to promote understanding and to celebrate the cultural contributions of refugees, and features many events such as music, dance and theatre.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the World Day of Migrants and Refugees is celebrated in January each year. It was instituted in 1914 by Pope Pius X.

Word of the year 2015 in German[edit]

The German word for refugee, which is Flüchtling, was chosen by the Society for the German Language (i.e. Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache) as word of the year in 2015.[250]

Prominent refugees[edit]

Refugee issues[edit]

Protracted displacement[edit]

Displacement is a long lasting reality for most refugees. Two-thirds of all refugees around the world have been displaced for over three years, which is known as being in 'protracted displacement'. 50% of refugees - around 10 million people - have been displaced for over ten years.[251] Research from the Overseas Development Institute has found that aid programmes for refugees need to move from short-term models of assistance (such as food or cash handouts) to more sustainable long-term programmes that help refugees become more self-reliant. This can involve tackling difficult legal and economic environments, by improving social services, job opportunities and laws.[251]

Medical problems[edit]

Refugee children from Syria at a clinic in Ramtha, Jordan, August 2013

Apart from physical wounds or starvation, a large percentage of refugees develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. These long-term mental problems can severely impede the functionality of the person in everyday situations; it makes matters even worse for displaced persons who are confronted with a new environment and challenging situations. They are also at high risk for suicide.[252]

Among other symptoms, post-traumatic stress disorder involves anxiety, over-alertness, sleeplessness, chronic fatigue syndrome, motor difficulties, failing short term memory, amnesia, nightmares and sleep-paralysis. Flashbacks are characteristic to the disorder: the patient experiences the traumatic event, or pieces of it, again and again. Depression is also characteristic for PTSD-patients and may also occur without accompanying PTSD.

PTSD was diagnosed in 34.1% of Palestinian children, most of whom were refugees, males, and working. The participants were 1,000 children aged 12 to 16 years from governmental, private, and United Nations Relief Work Agency UNRWA schools in East Jerusalem and various governorates in the West Bank.[253]

Another study showed that 28.3% of Bosnian refugee women had symptoms of PTSD three or four years after their arrival in Sweden. These women also had significantly higher risks of symptoms of depression, anxiety, and psychological distress than Swedish-born women. For depression the odds ratio was 9.50 among Bosnian women.[254]

A study by the Department of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine demonstrated that twenty percent of Sudanese refugee minors living in the United States had a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. They were also more likely to have worse scores on all the Child Health Questionnaire subscales.[255]

Many more studies illustrate the problem. One meta-study was conducted by the psychiatry department of Oxford University at Warneford Hospital in the United Kingdom. Twenty surveys were analyzed, providing results for 6,743 adult refugees from seven countries. In the larger studies, 9% were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and 5% with major depression, with evidence of much psychiatric co-morbidity. Five surveys of 260 refugee children from three countries yielded a prevalence of 11% for post-traumatic stress disorder. According to this study, refugees resettled in Western countries could be about ten times more likely to have PTSD than age-matched general populations in those countries. Worldwide, tens of thousands of refugees and former refugees resettled in Western countries probably have post-traumatic stress disorder.[256]


Refugee populations consist of people who are terrified and are away from familiar surroundings. There can be instances of exploitation at the hands of enforcement officials, citizens of the host country, and even United Nations peacekeepers. Instances of human rights violations, child labor, mental and physical trauma/torture, violence-related trauma, and sexual exploitation, especially of children, are not entirely unknown. In many refugee camps in three war-torn West African countries, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, young girls were found to be exchanging sex for money, a handful of fruit, or even a bar of soap. Most of these girls were between 13 and 18 years of age. In most cases, if the girls had been forced to stay, they would have been forced into marriage. They became pregnant around the age of 15 on average. This happened as recently as in 2001. Parents tended to turn a blind eye because sexual exploitation had become a "mechanism of survival" in these camps.[257]

Security threats[edit]

Very rarely, refugees have been used and recruited as refugee warriors,[258] and the humanitarian aid directed at refugee relief has very rarely been utilized to fund the acquisition of arms.[259] Support from a refugee-receiving state has rarely been used to enable refugees to mobilize militarily, enabling conflict to spread across borders.[260]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

Andy Lamey talks about the refugee crisis on Bookbits radio.
  • Betts, Alexander (2009). Protection by persuasion: international cooperation in the refugee regime. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 
  • Boswell, Christina (2005). The ethics of refugee policy. Aldershot: Ashgate. 
  • Gibney, Matthew J. (2004). The ethics and politics of asylum: liberal democracy and the response to refugees. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Goodwin-Gill, Guy S.; McAdam, Jane (2007). The refugee in international law. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  • Hathaway, James C. (1997). Reconceiving international refugee law. The Hague: Nijhoff. 
  • Hathaway, James C. (2005). The rights of refugees under international law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Helton, Arthur C. (2002). The price of indifference – refugees and humanitarian action in the new century. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  • Kenyon Lischer, Sarah (2008). Dangerous sanctuaries. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 
  • Loescher, Gil (1993). Beyond charity – international cooperation and the global refugee crisis. New York: Oxford University Press. 
  • Loescher, Gil; Betts, Alexander; Milnamandaer, James (2008). NHCR: the politics and practice of refugee protection into the twenty-first century. London: Routledge. 
  • Martin, Susan F. (2005). The uprooted – improving humanitarian responses to forced migration. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books. 
  • McAdam, Jane (2007). Complementary protection. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  • Milner, James (2009). The politics of asylum in Africa. London: Palgrave MacMillan. 
  • Nicholson, Frances; Twomey, Patrick (1999). Refugee rights and realities – evolving international concepts and regimes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Riedel, Gilles Giacca & Christophe Golay (2014). Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights Contemporary Issues and Challenges Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in International Law. Contemporary Issues and Challenges. Oxford University Press. p. 560. ISBN 9780199685974.  Site
  • Rutherford, Jonathan (2005). The asylum issue. London: Barefoot. ISBN 9781905007141. 
  • Stedman, Stephen John; Tanner, Fred (2003). Refugee manipulation – war, politics, and the abuse of human suffering. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press. 
  • UNHCR (2001). Refugee protection: A Guide to International Refugee Law UNHCR, Inter-Parliamentary Union
  • Zolberg, Aristide R.; Suhrke, Astri; Aguayo, Sergio (1989). Escape from violence – conflict and the refugee crisis in the developing world. New York: Oxford University Press. 

External links[edit]