Who is a refugee
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Who Is a Refugee?

As World Refugee Day approaches on June 20th, we want to reflect on the situation of refugees around the world. So who is a refugee? Today, we are experiencing a refugee crisis. More than 65 million people are unwillingly displaced. Most of them face hardship and discrimination along the way. To alleviate their situations, it’s important that the world comes together to support refugees. For this, we must first understand who they are and why they are on the move. This will help to promote compassion and understanding for those seeking refuge.

Who is a refugee? – the United Nations definition

A refugee is not simply an immigrant or a migrant. They fall under a special category of protected persons under international law. That’s because refugees don’t leave their countries because they want to. Rather, they are forced to flee fearing persecution, violence, war, or natural disaster. At the same time, they cannot return home either – mainly due to fear for their lives and those of their family members. When refugees arrive in destination countries, organizations like the UNHCR help to determine their refugee status.

 

Reasons to seek refuge

Refugees leave their homes because of war, violence, persecution, or natural disaster. Today, the 3 largest groups of refugees are from Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Syria. The Rohingya from Myanmar are also quickly growing in numbers. Typically, refugees flee when there is a trigger, and often this is the fear of losing their lives. For example, more than a million Rohingya fled Myanmar over the past year. This is because the Myanmar military is systematically murdering the Rohingya and burning their villages due to religious prosecution. In the case of Syria and South Sudan, both countries have been ravaged by civil wars. Another reason people may become refugees is due to a disaster. This is what happened in Somalia during drought and famine which was threatening the lives of millions of citizens.

How is a refugee different?

It is important to note that a refugee is different from other migrants. Refugees are granted rights under international law once their status is recognized. As an example, their status means that they cannot be deported to their country of origin.

In contrast, many conflicts and disasters can result in internally displaced persons. They flee their homes and move to a different part of the country but never cross international borders. An example of this is the millions of people displaced in Colombia during the civil war with the FARC guerrillas. Another example is a stateless person, one who does not have citizenship anywhere. This is a rare case since international law states that everyone has the right to a nationality.

Finally, asylum seekers are also different from refugees. Rather than fleeing, they seek sanctuary in another country. Typically, this is due to fear of persecution by their government for religious or political reasons. A famous case is of this is the Dalai Lama who has lived most of his life in exile in India.

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