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Villagers fleeing the village of Kibati during the 2008 Nord-Kivu conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A refugee is a person who is outside their home country because they have suffered (or feared) persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, or political opinion; because they are a member of a persecuted social category of persons; or because they are fleeing a war. Such a person may be called an "asylum seeker" until recognized by the state where they make a claim.[1]

In 2013, [2]


  • Definition 1
  • History 2
    • League of Nations 2.1
    • 1933 (rise of Nazism) to 1944 2.2
    • Post-WWII population transfers 2.3
  • UNHCR 3
  • International attitude 4
    • Law 4.1
    • World Refugee Day 4.2
  • Reasons for refugee crises 5
    • Asylum seekers 5.1
      • Statistics 5.1.1
    • Climate 5.2
    • Security threats 5.3
    • Economic migrants 5.4
    • Boat people 5.5
  • Refugee absorption solutions 6
    • Camps 6.1
    • Resettlement 6.2
    • Right of return 6.3
  • Historical and contemporary crises 7
    • Movements in Africa 7.1
      • Angola 7.1.1
      • Uganda 7.1.2
      • Great Lakes crisis 7.1.3
      • Darfur 7.1.4
        • African refugees in Israel
        • African refugees in Egypt
      • Western Sahara conflict 7.1.5
      • Libyan Civil War 7.1.6
    • Movements in the Americas 7.2
      • Latin Americans 7.2.1
      • United States 7.2.2
    • Movements in Asia 7.3
      • Afghanistan 7.3.1
      • Dissolution of the British Raj, The Partition of 1947 and Independence 7.3.2
      • Bangladeshis in India in 1971 7.3.3
      • Pakistani Biharis in Bangladesh after 1971 7.3.4
      • Rohingyas in Bangladesh and Pakistan from Burma 7.3.5
      • Himalayas 7.3.6
      • Sri Lanka 7.3.7
      • Jammu and Kashmir 7.3.8
      • Tajikistan civil war 7.3.9
      • Uzbekistan 7.3.10
      • Southeast Asia (Vietnam War) 7.3.11
    • Movements in Europe 7.4
      • World War II refugee issues 7.4.1
        • Jewish refugees
      • European Union 7.4.2
      • United Kingdom 7.4.3
      • France 7.4.4
      • Hungary 7.4.5
      • Czechoslovakia 7.4.6
      • Southeastern Europe 7.4.7
      • Cyprus crisis of 1974 7.4.8
      • Chechnya 7.4.9
      • Nagorno Karabakh 7.4.10
      • Georgia 7.4.11
      • Ukraine 7.4.12
    • Movements in the Near and Middle East 7.5
      • Assyrians transfers and forced migrations between 1843 and the 21st century 7.5.1
      • Palestinians 7.5.2
      • Jews of Arab and Muslim countries 7.5.3
      • Internally displaced Syrians from the Golan Heights 7.5.4
      • Lebanon Civil War crisis 7.5.5
      • Kurdish population displacement due to Turkish conflict 7.5.6
      • Iran-Iraq war 7.5.7
      • Refugees of the Gulf War 7.5.8
      • Iraq War (2003-today) 7.5.9
        • Mandaeans and Yazidis
        • Refugees in Jordan
      • 2011 Syrian refugees 7.5.10
      • Religious minorities in the Middle East 7.5.11
  • Refugee issues 8
    • Medical problems 8.1
    • Exploitation 8.2
  • See also 9
  • Notes 10
  • References 11
  • Further reading 12
  • External links 13


Darfur refugee camp in Chad, 2005
The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees has adopted the following definition of a refugee (in Article 1.A.2):
[A]ny person who: owing to a 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 to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country".[3]

This original definition with all its legacies has been criticized as based on three political framings:[4]

  • 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."

The concept of a refugee was expanded by the Convention's 1967 Protocol and by regional conventions in Africa and Latin America to include 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 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.

The term refugee is often used to include

  • Refugee numbers by country
  • OneWorld Guide to Refugees
  • UNHCR RefWorld access to UNHCR Country of Origin and Legal Information databases
  • Hungarian Refugees Received on Prince Edward Island, Canada (1956-1957)
  • Information on Refugees in Malta and the Mediterranean Regis

External links

  • Refugee protection: A Guide to International Refugee Law UN HCR, Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2001
  • Alexander Betts Protection by Persuasion: International Cooperation in the Refugee Regime, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009
  • Guy S. Goodwin-Gill and Jane McAdam The refugee in international law, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007
  • Matthew J. Gibney, "The Ethics and Politics of Asylum: Liberal Democracy and the Response to Refugees," Cambridge University Press 2004
  • Alexander Betts Forced Migration and Global Politics, London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009
  • James Milner The Politics of Asylum in Africa, London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009
  • James C. Hathaway The rights of refugees under international law, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005
  • Christina Boswell The ethics of refugee policy, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005
  • Jane McAdam Complementary Protection, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007
  • Sarah Kenyon Lischer, Dangerous Sanctuaries, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008
  • Susan F. Martin The uprooted - improving humanitarian responses to forced migration, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005
  • Stephen John Stedman & Fred Tanner (ed.) Refugee manipulation - war, politics, and the abuse of human suffering, Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2003
  • Arthur C. Helton The price of indifference - refugees and humanitarian action in the new century. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002
  • Gil Loescher, Alexander Betts and James Milnamandaer UNHCR: The Politics and Practice of Refugee Protection into the Twenty-First Century. London: Routledge, 2008
  • Frances Nicholson & Patrick Twomey (ed/) Refugee rights and realities - evolving international concepts and regimes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999
  • James C. Hathaway (ed.) Reconceiving international refugee law, The Hague: Nijhoff, 1997
  • Gil Loescher Beyond charity - international cooperation and the Global Refugee Crisis, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993
  • Aristide R. Zolberg, Astri Suhrke & Sergio Aguayo Escape from violence - conflict and the refugee crisis in the developing world, New York: Oxford University Press, 1989
  • Scott Rempell, "Five Grounds," A Refugee Novel. ISBN 1479201723.
Andy Lamey talks about the refugee crisis on Bookbits radio.

Further reading

  • Fell, Peter and Debra Hayes (2007), "What are they doing here? A critical guide to asylum and immigration." Venture Press.
  • Gibney, Matthew J. (2004), "The Ethics and Politics of Asylum: Liberal Democracy and the Response to Refugees," Cambridge University Press.
  • Refugee number statistics taken from 'Refugee', Encyclopædia Britannica CD Edition (2004).
  • Waters, Tony (2001), Bureaucatizing the Good Samaritan, Westview Press.


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  212. ^ Damon, Arwa; Mohammed Tawfeeq and Raja Razek (2007-08-15). "Iraqi officials: Truck bombings killed at least 500". CNN. 
  213. ^ Iraq is disintegrating as ethnic cleansing takes hold
  214. ^ "There is ethnic cleansing"
  215. ^ Satellite images show ethnic cleanout in Iraq, Reuters, September 19, 2008
  216. ^ Syria Regional Refugee Response - Demographic Data of Registered Population. UNHCR.
  217. ^
  218. ^
  219. ^ "'"Detainee children 'in suicide pact. CNN. 2002-01-28. Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  220. ^ Khamis, V. Post-traumatic stress disorder among school age Palestinian children. Child Abuse Negl. 2005 Jan;29(1):81–95.
  221. ^ Sundquist K, Johansson LM, DeMarinis V, Johansson SE, Sundquist J. Posttraumatic stress disorder and psychiatric co-morbidity: symptoms in a random sample of female Bosnian refugees. Eur Psychiatry. 2005 Mar;20(2):158–64.
  222. ^ Geltman PL, Grant-Knight W, Mehta SD, Lloyd-Travaglini C, Lustig S, Landgraf JM, Wise PH. The "lost boys of Sudan": functional and behavioral health of unaccompanied refugee minors re-settled in the United States. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2005 Jun;159(6):585–91.
  223. ^ Fazel M, Wheeler J, Danesh J. Prevalence of serious mental disorder in 7000 refugees resettled in western countries: a systematic review. Lancet. 2005 Apr 9–15;365(9467):1309–14.
  224. ^ Aggrawal A. (2005) "Refugee Medicine" in : Payne-James JJ, Byard RW, Corey TS, Henderson C (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Forensic and Legal Medicine, Elsevier Academic Press: London, Vol. 3, Pp. 514–525.


See also

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.[224]


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.[223]

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.[222]

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.[221]

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.[220]

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.

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.[219]

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

Medical problems

Refugee issues

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.[217] The question of Jewish, Christian and other refugees from Arab and Muslim countries was introduced in March 2007 in the US Congress.[218]

Religious minorities in the Middle East

To escape the violence, nearly 2.5 million Syrian refugees have fled the country to neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.[216]

2011 Syrian refugees

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. Jordan also has Armenian, Chechen, Circassian minorities, and about half of its population is said to be of Palestinian refugees and their descendents.

Za'atri camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan
Refugees in Jordan

Furthermore, the small Mandaean and Yazidi communities are at the risk of elimination due to ethnic cleansing by Islamic militants.[211][212] Entire neighborhoods in Baghdad were ethnically cleansed by Shia and Sunni Militias.[213][214] Satellite shows ethnic cleansing in Iraq was key factor in "surge" success.[215]

Mandaeans and Yazidis

In June 2014, More than 500,000 people fled Mosul to escape from the advancing Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).[210]

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.[208][209]

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.[206] 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.[207]

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.[202] Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan live in impoverished communities with little international attention to their plight and little legal protection.[203] In Syria alone an estimated 50,000 Iraqi girls and women, many of them widows, are forced into prostitution just to survive.[204][205]

The current 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.[197] 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.[198][199][200] Only 1% of the total Iraqi displaced population was estimated to be in the Western countries.[201]

Iraq War (2003-today)

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,[195] in addition to getting fired from work by Iraqi authority figures in Kuwait.[195] After the Gulf War in 1991, Kuwaiti authorities pressured nearly 200,000 Palestinians to leave Kuwait.[196] The policy which partly led to this exodus was a response to the alignment of PLO leader Yasser Arafat with Saddam Hussein.

Refugees of the Gulf War

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).

Iran-Iraq war

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.[190] 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.[191][192][193][194]

Refugees in Turkey

Kurdish population displacement due to Turkish conflict

The 2006 Lebanon War temporarily displaced approximately one million Lebanese[187] and approximately 500,000 Israelis, although most were able to return to their homes.[188] Lebanese desire to emigrate has increased since the war. Over a fifth of Shias, a quarter of Sunnis, and nearly half of Maronites have expressed the desire to leave Lebanon. Nearly a third of such Maronites have already submitted visa applications to foreign embassies, and another 60,000 Lebanese Christians have already fled, as of April 2007. Lebanese Christians are concerned that their influence is waning, fear the apparent rise of radical Islam, and worry of potential Sunni-Shia rivalry.[189]

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).[186]

Lebanese refugees in south Lebanon, 2006

Lebanon Civil War crisis

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.[185]

Internally displaced Syrians from the Golan Heights

Some Arab countries, like Iraq, did take a number of measures against Jews who left the country, including the confiscation of assets left behind.[184]

Other Israeli academics and leaders[181] state that Oriental Jews did not come to Israel as refugees, pointing out that many decided to migrate despite leading comfortable lives[182] in the Arab world and arrived to Israel under the directive of underground Zionist activists acting on behalf of the Israeli state.[183]

The resolutions had been written together with lobbyist group [180] Jerrold Nadler. Michael Fischbach explain 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."[178]

Ma'abara near Nahariya (northern Israel), 1952.
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.[177]
H.Res. 185 and S.Res. 85 to simple resolutions passed House of Representatives and SenateIn 2007, both the US

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 lands and homes belonging to Palestinian refugees. 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.[176]

Following the Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries, the combined population of Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa (excluding Israel) 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.[169][170][171][172][173][174][175] 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,[169] and refer to those affected as "refugees".[169] Those who argue that the exodus does not equate to the Palestinian exodus emphasize "pull factors", such as the actions of local Zionist agents aiming to fulfil the One Million Plan,[171] highlight good relations between the Jewish communities and their country's governments,[173] emphasize the impact of other push factors such as the decolonization in the Maghreb and the Suez War and Lavon Affair in Egypt,[173] and argue that many or all of those who left were not refugees.[169][171]

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

Jews of Arab and Muslim countries

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 Syrian passports. 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 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.

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,[167][168] and legally defined to include descendants of refugees, as well as others who might otherwise be considered internally displaced persons.

Kalandia refugee camp, West Bank

As a result of the 1948 Palestine war and the 1948 Arab-Israel war, much of the Palestinian Arabs of what has become Israel fled or were expelled from their homes, either driven forcefully by Zionist paramilitary groups, by fear, or by instruction from Arab leadership. By the end of 1948, there were about 700,000 Palestinian refugees. 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.[166] Until 1967, the West Bank and Gaza were officially ruled, respectively, by Egypt and Jordan, whose Hashemite Kingdom was the only Arab government to grant citizenship to Palestinian refugees. Most Arab states have refused to absorb Palestinians as equal citizens.

Palestinian refugees leaving the Galilee in October–November 1948


In his recent PhD thesis[163] and in his recent book[164] the Israeli scholar Mordechai Zaken discussed the history of the Assyrians of Turkey and Iraq (in the Kurdish vicinity) during the last 180 years, from 1843 onwards. In his studies Zaken outlines three major eruptions that took place between 1843 and 1933 during which the Assyrians lost their land and hegemony in their habitat in the Hakkārī (or Julamerk) region in southeastern Turkey and became refugees in other lands, notably Iran and Iraq, and ultimately in exiled communities in Western countries (United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and EU member states like Sweden, France, to mention some of these countries). Mordechai Zaken wrote this important study from an analytical and comparative point of view, comparing the Assyrians experience with the experience of the Kurdish Jews, who had been dwelling in Kurdistan for two thousands years or so, but were forced to migrate the land to Israel in the early 1950s. The Jews of Kurdistan were forced to leave and migrate as a result of the Arab-Israeli war, as a result of the increasing hostility and acts of violence against Jews in Iraq and Kurdish towns and villages, and as a result of a new situation that had been built up during the 1940s in Iraq and Kurdistan in which the ability of Jews to live in relative comfort and relative tolerance (that was erupted from time to time prior to that period) with their Arab and Muslim neighbors, as they did for many years, practically came to an end. At the end, the Jews of Kurdistan had to leave their Kurdish habitat en masse and migrate into Israel. The Assyrians on the other hand, came to similar conclusion but migrated in stages following each and every eruption of a political crisis with the regime in which boundaries they lived or following each conflict with their Muslim, Turkish, Arabs or Kurdish neighbors, or following the departure or expulsion of their patriarch Mar Shimon in 1933, first to Cyprus and then to the United States. Consequently, indeed there is still a small and fragile community of Assyrians in Iraq, however, millions of Assyrians live today in exiled and prosperous communities in the west.[165]

Assyrians transfers and forced migrations between 1843 and the 21st century

Movements in the Near and Middle East

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.[160] However, also quoting UNHCR, Deutsche Welle says 197,000 Ukrainians fled to Russia by August 20, 2014 and not less than 190,000 have fled to other parts of Ukraine, 14,000 to Belarus and 14,000 to Poland.[161][162]

Destroyed house in Donbass, Ukraine, 22 July 2014


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.[159]

[158] As a result of

More than 8,0050,000 people, mostly ethnic-cleansing from Abkhazia during the War in Abkhazia between 1992 and 1993, and afterwards in 1993 and 1998.[157]


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.[154] 280,000 persons—virtually all ethnic Armenians—fled Azerbaijan during the 1988–1993 war over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.[155] 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.[156]

Internally displaced Azerbaijanis from Nagorno-Karabakh, 1993.

Nagorno Karabakh

From 1992 ongoing conflict has taken place in Chechenya, Caucasus due to independence proclaimed by this republic in 1991 which is not accepted by the Russian Federation or any other state in the world. As a consequence about 2 million people have been displaced and still cannot return to their homes. At the end of the Soviet era, ethnic Russians comprised about 23% of the population (269,000 in 1989). 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.[152][153]


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.[151] The separation of the two communities via the UN patrolled Green Line prohibited the return of all internally displaced people.

Cyprus crisis of 1974

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.[149] As of 2007, Serbia had the largest refugee population in Europe.[150]

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.[147][148]

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.[145][146] In 1999, about one million Albanians escaped from Serbian persecution.

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

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

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.

Southeastern Europe

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).[144]


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.[143]


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.[142]


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.[141]

United Kingdom

[140] According to the

European Union

The Evian Conference, Bermuda Conference, and other summits failed to resolve the problem of finding a home for large numbers of Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe. Following its formation in 1948, according to 1947 UN Partition Plan, Israel adopted the Law of Return, granting Israeli citizenship to any Jewish immigrant.

Between the first and second world wars, Jewish immigration to the British Mandate for Palestine was encouraged by the nascent Zionist movement, but was restricted by the British Mandate government, under the pressure of native Palestinians. In Europe, Nazi persecution culminated in the Holocaust and the mass murder of millions of European Jews.

Jewish refugees

World War II refugee issues

Movements in Europe

  • 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.[133] Most Asian countries were unwilling to accept refugees.[134]
  • 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 DC, 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.[135]
  • 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,[136] over 55,000 Burmese refugees have been resettled in the United States.[137]
  • Muslim ethnic groups from Burma, the Rohingya and other Arakanese have been living in camps in Bangladesh since the 1990s.[138][139]

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.

Vietnamese boat people, 1984.

Southeast Asia (Vietnam War)

The 2010 ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan left some 300,000 people internally displaced, and around 100,000 sought refuge in Uzbekistan.[132]

In 1989, after bloody pogroms against the Meskhetian Turks in Central Asia's Ferghana Valley, nearly 90,000 Meskhetian Turks left Uzbekistan.[130][131]


Since 1991, much of the country's non-Muslim population, including non-ethnic Tajikistan's 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.[128] 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.[129]

Tajikistan civil war

According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), about 300,000 HinduKashmiri 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.[126] 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.[127]

Jammu and Kashmir

About 69,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees live in 112 camps in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.[125]

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,[124] to countries like Canada, the UK and especially Australia. Australia in particular, receives hundreds of refugees every month.

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.

Sri Lanka

By 2009, more than 3 million civilians had been displaced by the War in North-West Pakistan (2004–present).[123]

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

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.[122]

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.

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


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.

An estimated 90,000 people have been displaced in the 2012 sectarian violence between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in Burma's western Rakhine State.[121]

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.[118][119][120]

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.[117] 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.

Tamil refugees in Sri Lanka.

Rohingyas in Bangladesh and Pakistan from Burma

During the period of united Pakistan (1947–1971), the Urdu-speaking Biharis were not assimilated into the society of East Pakistan and remained a distinct cultural-linguistic group. Due to being a different linguistic group they were assaulted by Bengalis and the Indian Army in the 1971 war. Many atrocities took place against Biharis and even after the war they are still living in the same conditions. 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 today.

Pakistani Biharis in Bangladesh after 1971

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.

Bangladeshis in India in 1971

The partition of the British Raj provinces of Panjab and Bangal 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.

Overcrowded train transferring refugees during the partition of India, 1947. This was considered to be the largest migration in human history.

Dissolution of the British Raj, The Partition of 1947 and Independence

The 2011 industrialized country asylum data notes a 30% increase in applications from Afghans from 2010 to 2011, primarily towards Germany and Turkey.[116] 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.

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 (mainly NWFP) 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.[111] Approximately 3.5 million from Pakistan[112] 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.[113] More impormation: • The first Afghanistan people to arrive in Australia was during the 1860s • In 1979, the second group of immigrants from Afghanistan came to Australia, attacking hospitals, schools and mosques. Australians kept a small number as refugees 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.[114] 935,600 registered Afghans are living in Iran, which also include the ones born inside Iran.[115]

Afghan refugees in France, 2010


Movements in Asia

In 2005, as a result of hurricane Katrina, New Orleans citizens were referred to be the media as "refugees". Many New Orleanians consider the term refugee to be an insult. Resident Joseph Melancon explains, “And they had the nerve to call us refugees! When I heard they called us refugees, I couldn’t do nothing but drop my head cause I said I’m a United States citizen!” Actor Wendell Pierce says, “Damn, when the storm came it blew away our citizenship too?” Such narratives regarding the loss of citizenship are used to illustrate the trauma endured and the degradation citizens inflicted during the storm and they are also to show the federal government failing to uphold some contractual responsibility. In Sanctuary: African Americans and Empire, Waligora Davis remarks that, “The problem of the refugee, the stateless, the semi-colonial that DuBois names the black American, is a problem of the refugees relationship to the law and the state. Collectively, such persons signify a community outside the precincts of laws, they remain marginalized as a result of their loss of withheld citizenship.” Yet, these narratives and Waligora-Davis’ definition does not fully engage the ways in which ‘refugee’ can be deployed as a diasporic trope for empowerment, similar to how The Fugees utilize the term in the diaspora. Here, I would then like to incorporate Alexander Weyheliye’s “Sounding Diasporic Citizenship” to consider the possibility for the term “refugee” to be a liberating call to build community and redress trauma throughout the New Orleans diaspora using the example of the hip hop group, the Fugees.

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.[109] 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.[110]

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.

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.

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.

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

United States

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.[107][108] 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.

The victory of the forces led by Mariel boatlift of 1980.

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.

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.

Colombian refugees receiving humanitarian assistance.

Latin Americans

Movements in the Americas

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.

Libyan Civil War

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.[104][105] 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.[106]

Saharawi refugee women with flour in Dakhla, southwestern Algeria (2004).

Western Sahara conflict

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.

African refugees in Egypt

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.[102] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said 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 Jewish and democratic state."[103]

During the past years, conflicts have occurred between Israelis and African immigrants in southern Tel-aviv, mostly due to poverty issues of both sides. Locals accuse African immigrants of Rape,[100] Stealing[101] and assault, making racial issues emerge in the south part of Tel-aviv, which became an immigrant populated area.

Since 2003, an estimated 70,000 illegal immigrants from various African countries have crossed into Israel.[96] Some 600 refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan have been granted temporary resident status to be renewed every year, though not official refugee state.[97] 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, though Sudanese, who are from an enemy state, are also not recognized as refugees. In effect, Israeli politicians, including the current Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, have referred to the refugees as a threat to Israel's "Jewish character".[98] African refugees are sometimes subject to racism and racial riots, as well as on-man assaults, have been occurring in Israel, especially in southern Tel Aviv since mid-2012.[99]

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

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 Darfur conflict in western Sudan since roughly 2003.[94][95]


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.

Great Lakes crisis

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

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.[91] Uganda's 80,000 Asians were mostly Indians born in the country. India had refused to accept them.[92] Most of the expelled Indians eventually settled in the United Kingdom, Canada and in the United States.[93]

Ugandan refugee children at a camp near Kitgum.


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.[90]

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),[87] Congo, Mozambique and Angola.[88] 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.[89]


Africa Refugees per country
Country Refugees
Angola 228,838
Burundi 485,764
Cameroon 7,269
Central African Republic 31,069
Chad 52,663
Côte d'Ivoire 23,655
Democratic Republic of Congo 462,203
Eritrea 131,119
Ethiopia 63,105
Ghana 14,767
Liberia 335,467
Nigeria 23,888
Republic of the Congo 28,152
Rwanda 63,808
Senegal 8,332
Sierra Leone 41,801
Somalia 389,272
Sudan 930,612
Togo 10,819
Uganda 31,963
Zimbabwe 9,568
. Kenya, and Ethiopia, Uganda, Chad and are located mainly in Darfur conflict or the Sudanese Civil War The largest number of refugees are from Sudan and have fled either the longstanding and recently concluded [86]Countries in Africa from where 5,000 or more refugees originated as of the end of 2004 are listed below.

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.

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.[84] By the end of 2004, that number had dropped to 2,748,400 refugees, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.[85] (That figure does not include internally displaced persons, who do not cross international borders and so do not fit the official definition of refugee.)

Distribution of humanitarian aid at a refugee camp in Congo.

Movements in Africa

Historical and contemporary crises

  • 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).

Even in a supposedly "post-conflict" environment, it is not a simple process for refugees to return home.[83] 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.[83] 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).[83] Therefore, the following are of particular importance to the right to return:[83]

Right of return

There are a number of advantages to the strategy of using agencies other than the government to directly assist in resettlement. First of all, it has been estimated that for a federal or state bureaucracy to resettle refugees instead of the VOLAGS would double the overall cost. These agencies are often able to procure large quantities of donations and, more importantly, volunteers. According to one study, when the fact that resettlement workers often have to work nights, weekends, and overtime in order to meet the demands of the large cultural transition of new refugees is taken into account, the use of volunteers reduces the overall cost down to roughly a quarter.[82] VOLAGS are also more flexible and responsive than the government since they are smaller and rely on their own funds.

[81].World Relief, and U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, International Rescue Committee, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Episcopal Migration Ministries, the Ethiopian Community Development Council, the Church World Service Others include [80] The United States helped resettle roughly 2 million refugees between 1945 and 1979, when their refugee

[79] Only six people were accepted in 2013.[78]Japan recognized only 305 persons as refugees between 1981 and 2002.

Bulgarian refugee children from Gorno Brodi after the Second Balkan War resettled in Pestera.

In September 2009, the European Commission unveiled plans for new Joint EU Resettlement Programme. The scheme would involve EU member states deciding together each year which refugees should be given priority. Member states would receive €4,000 from the European Refugee Fund per refugee resettled.[77]

A number of third countries run specific resettlement programmes in co-operation with UNHCR. The size of these programmes is shown in the table.[72] The largest programmes are run by the United States, Canada and Australia. A number of European countries run smaller schemes and in 2004 the United Kingdom established its own scheme, known as the Gateway Protection Programme[72] with an initial annual quota of 500, which rose to 750 in the financial year 2008/09.[76]

In terms of resettlement departures, in 2008, 65,548 refugees were resettled in 26 countries, up from 49,868 in 2007.[71] The largest number of UNHCR-assisted departures were from Thailand (16,807), Nepal (8,165), Syria (7,153), Jordan (6,704) and Malaysia (5,865).[71] Note that these are the countries that refugees were resettled from, not their countries of origin.

UNHCR referred more than 121,000 refugees for consideration for resettlement in 2008. This was the highest number for 15 years. In 2007, 98,999 people were referred. UNHCR referred 33,512 refugees from Iraq, 30,388 from Burma/Myanmar and 23,516 from Bhutan in 2008.[71]

However, only about 1% of the over 10.5 million refugees the UNHCR typically deals with are submitted for resettlement. Around 108,000 refugees were considered for the opportunity to be resettled in 2010, with the primary countries of origin being Iraq, Myanmar, and Bhutan.[75]

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 children from Somalia's Bantu ethnic minority group resettled in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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]

Resettlement involves the assisted movement of refugees who are unable to return home to safe third countries.[70][71] The UNHCR has traditionally seen resettlement as the least preferable of the "durable solutions" to refugee situations.[72] However, in April 2000 the then UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, stated:

Country 2010 resettlements[69]
United States 54,077
Canada 6,706
Australia 5,636
Sweden 1,789
Norway 1,088
United Kingdom 695
Finland 543
New Zealand 535
Germany 457
Netherlands 430
All Others 958
Total 72,914


A refugee camp is a place built by NGOs (such as the International Committee of the Red Cross) to receive refugees. People may stay in these camps, receiving emergency food and medical aid, until it is safe to return to their homes or until they are retrieved by other people outside the camps. In some cases, often after several years, other countries decide it will never be safe to return these people, and they are resettled in "third countries", away from the border they crossed. However, more often than not, refugees are not resettled. In the meantime, they are at risk for disease, child soldier recruitment, terrorist recruitment, and physical and sexual violence. There are estimated to be 700 refugee camp locations.[68]

A camp in Guinea for refugees from Sierra Leone
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.


Refugee absorption solutions

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.[67]

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.

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.

Ecuadorian refugees near Guatemala.

Boat people

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.

Official responses to Zimbabwean migration in Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique are still premised on the original definition from the 1951 Convention, and so were said to be failing to protect both Zimbabweans and their own citizens". Those crossing the border were neither refugees - most did not even apply for refugee status - and, given the extent of economic collapse at home, nor they could hardly be considered as "voluntary" economic migrants. So many of them were not legally protected, nor do they receive humanitarian support, as they fell outside the mandates of the support structures offered by government and non-government institutions. 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 forced humanitarian migrants.

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.

In 2008-2009, the humanitarian nature of the mass movement of Zimbabweans to neighbouring Southern African blurred the distinction between what is a "refugee" and an "economic migrant". Such people fit neither category perfectly and have more general needs, rights and responsibilities, that fall outside the specific mandate of the UNHCR. They fall between the cracks, according to the report Zimbabwean Migration into Southern Africa: New Trends and Responses, released in November 2009 by the Forced Migration Studies Programme (FMSP) at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.[65][66] According to the researchers, a lack of protection of migrants in the region was based on a "false distinction" between a forced and an economic migrant, instead of focusing on the real and urgent needs some of these migrants have. The report suggested that a better term would be "forced humanitarian migrants", who moved for the purpose of their and their dependents' basic survival.

Not all migrants seeking shelter 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 that later emerged: the climate refugee (:Environmental migrant") (see below).

North African immigrants in Sicily.

Economic migrants

Very rarely, refugees have been used and recruited as refugee warriors,[62] and the humanitarian aid directed at refugee relief has very rarely been utilized to fund the acquisition of arms.[63] Support from a refugee-receiving state has rarely been used to enable refugees to mobilize militarily, enabling conflict to spread across borders.[64]

Security threats

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"[56] or "climate change refugees".[57] The term 'environmental refugee' is also commonly used and an estimate 25 million people can currently be classified as such.[58] 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.[59] 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.[60] 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.[61] Migration is in many developing countries a coping strategy to mitigate poverty and is already happening independent of the effects of climate change and environmental degradation. It is 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.[58]

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


Country Total Asylum Seekers 2007 to 2011[54]
United States 278,850
France 206,890
Germany 155,970
Canada 147,000
Sweden 146,380
United Kingdom 138,350
Italy 106,140
Belgium 88,300
Greece 80,500
Switzerland 74,900
Austria 66,020
Netherlands 60,330
Norway 57,300
Turkey 53,710
Australia 40,320
Poland 36,720
Spain 21,340
Cyprus 18,840
Finland 18,470
Israel 17,175
South Africa 16,900
Denmark 16,810
Hungary 15,010
Ireland 13,780
Malta 8,370
Russia 8,000
Japan 6,880
Czech Republic 5,930
Slovakia 5,360
Romania 5,250
Serbia 4,560
Bulgaria 4,500
Luxembourg 4,270
South Korea 2,840
Croatia 1,610
New Zealand 1,490
Slovenia 1,410
Lithuania 1,340
Macedonia 1,090
Portugal 960
Bosnia and Herzegovina 810
Latvia 530
Liechtenstein 530
Iceland 280
Montenegro 280
Estonia 160
Albania 70
Total 1,942,520
Country Major source countries in 2011[54]
Afghanistan 35,729
PR China 24,446
Iraq 23,469
Serbia 21,246
Pakistan 18,141
Iran 18,128
Russia 16,977
Somalia 15,482
Eritrea 10,616
Nigeria 10,498
Mexico 8,906
Syria 8,383
Tunisia 7,907
Bangladesh 7,644
India 6,772
Georgia 6,700
Turkey 6,688
DR Congo 6,574
Armenia 6,220
Guinea 6,113
Macedonia 5,607
Algeria 4,982
El Salvador 4,610
Hungary 4,488
Haiti 3,915
Egypt 3,841
Guatemala 3,656
Albania 3,330
Sudan 3,236
Ethiopia 3,180
Nepal 2,913
Ghana 2,817
Bosnia and Herzegovina 2,732
Morocco 2,696
Mali 2,363
Azerbaijan 2,363
Country Number of asylum seekers in 2012 (EU only) [55]
 Germany 77,650
 France 61,455
 Sweden 43,945
  Switzerland 28,640
 Belgium 28,285
 United Kingdom 28,260
 Austria 17,450
 Italy 17,350
 Netherlands 13,100
 Poland 10,755
 Norway 9,785
 Greece 9,575
 Denmark 6,075
 Finland 3,115
 Spain 2,565
 Romania 2,510
 Hungary 2,155
 Malta 2,080
 Luxembourg 2,055
 Cyprus 1,635
 Bulgaria 1,385
 Ireland 955
 Czech Republic 755
 Slovakia 730
 Lithuania 645
 Slovenia 305
 Portugal 295
 Latvia 205
 Estonia 75
 Liechtenstein 75


Concerns over arbitrariness in asylum adjudication in the United States have led some commentators to describe the process as refugee roulette; that is, a system in which the identity of the adjudicator, rather than the strength of the asylum seeker's claim, is the determining factor in winning an asylum claim.

Non-governmental organizations concerned with refugees and asylum seekers have pointed out difficulties for displaced persons to seek asylum in industrialized countries. As their immigration policy often focuses on the fight of irregular migration and the strengthening of border controls it deters displaced persons from entering territory in which they could lodge an asylum claim. The lack of opportunities to legally access the asylum procedures can force asylum seekers to undertake often expensive and hazardous attempts at illegal entry.

A claim for asylum may also be made onshore, usually after making an unauthorized arrival. Some governments are tolerant and accepting of onshore asylum claims; other governments arrest or detain those who attempt to seek asylum; sometimes while processing their claims.

The percentage of asylum/refugee seekers who (it has been deemed) do not meet the international standards of special-needs refugee, and for whom resettlement is deemed proper, varies from country to country. Failed asylum applicants are most often deported, sometimes after imprisonment or detention, as in the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom, more than one in four decisions to refuse an asylum seeker protection are overturned by immigration judges.[53] Campaigners have suggested that this figure suggests the process of allocation refugee status is inefficient or flawed.

The practical determination of whether a person is a refugee or not is most often left to certain government agencies within the host country. This can lead to a situation where the country will neither recognize the refugee status of the asylum seekers nor see them as legitimate migrants and treat them as illegal aliens.

International refugee law defines a refugee as someone who seeks refuge in a foreign country because of war and violence, or out of fear of persecution. The United States recognizes persecution "on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group" as grounds for seeking asylum.[52] Until a request for refuge has been accepted, the person is referred to as an asylum seeker. Only after the recognition of the asylum seeker's protection needs is he or she is officially referred to as a refugee and enjoys refugee status. This carries certain rights and obligations according to the legislation of the receiving country.

Asylum seekers

Reasons for refugee crises

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

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.

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

World Refugee Day

Refugee law encompasses both customary law, peremptory norms, and international legal instruments. These include:

  • are outside their country of nationality or habitual residence;
  • have a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion; and
  • are unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution.

Under international law, refugees are individuals who:


International attitude

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 Côte d'Ivoire 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.

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, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country.

UNHCR provides protection and assistance not only to refugees, but also to other categories of displaced or needy people. These include asylum seekers, refugees who have 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 to an estimated 5 million people worldwide. According to Bogumil Terminski the stabilization of refugee problem worldwide is the main cause of the development of the studies on internal displacement.

Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (established December 14, 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 future Jewish state 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.

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


The Constitution of the International Refugee Organization, adopted by the

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.[50] 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.

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.[48]

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)[39] in Germany and occupied territories.[40][41] 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.[42][43] The survivors on their return to the USSR were treated as traitors (see Order No. 270).[44][45] Over 1.5 million surviving Red Army soldiers imprisoned by the Nazis were sent to the Gulag.[46][47]

German refugees from East Prussia, 1945

During the same period, millions of former Russian citizens were forcefully repatriated against their will into the USSR.[36] On 11 February 1945, at the conclusion of the Yalta Conference, the United States and United Kingdom signed a Repatriation Agreement with the USSR.[37] 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 U.S. 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.[38]

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.[31][32][33][34][35] (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.

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)[30] 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.[30] (See Flight and expulsion of Germans (1944–50).)

After the Soviet armed forces recaptured 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.

Russian refugees near Stalingrad, 1942

Post-WWII population transfers

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.[28] 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.[29] 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.

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.[16] This coincided with the flight of several hundred thousand Spanish Republicans to France after their loss to the Nationalists in 1939 in the Spanish Civil War.[27]

The mandate of the High Commission was subsequently expanded to include persons from Austria and Sudetenland, which Germany annexed after October 1, 1938 in accordance with the Munich Agreement. According to the Institute for Refugee Assistance, the actual count of refugees from Czechoslovakia on March 1, 1939 stood at almost 150,000.[24] Between 1933 and 1939, about 200,000 Jews fleeing Nazism were able to find refuge in France,[25] while at least 55,000 Jews were able to find refuge in Palestine[26] before the British authorities closed that destination in 1939.

Czech refugees from the Sudetenland, October 1938

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[21] by the Reich Citizenship Law of 1935.[22] On July 4, 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).[23]

1933 (rise of Nazism) to 1944

However, it 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.[20]

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.

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.[18] Most of the European refugees (principally Jews and Slavs) fleeing Stalin, the Nazis and World War II were barred from coming to the United States.[19]

The 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey involved approximately two million people (around 1.5 million Anatolian Greeks and 500,000 Muslims in Greece) most forcibly repatriated and denaturalized from homelands of centuries or millennia (and guaranteed the nationality of the destination country) in a treaty promoted and overseen by the international community as part of the Treaty of Lausanne.[17]

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.[16] 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.

The first international co-ordination of refugee affairs came with the creation by the League of Nations in 1921 of High Commissioner 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),[14] 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.[15]

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

League of Nations

The term 'refugee' is sometimes applied to people who may have 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 century 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.[12] The Balkan Wars of 1912–1913 caused 800,000 people to leave their homes.[13] Various groups of people were officially designated refugees beginning in World War I.

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

The idea that a person who sought sanctuary in a holy place couldn't 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 600 AD. 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. Through 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.

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


Although similar and frequently confused with refugees, [2] By contrast there were 28.8 million (about twice as many) IDPs at the end of 2012[11]

Refugees were defined as a legal group in response to the large numbers of people fleeing Eastern Europe following World War II. The lead international agency coordinating refugee protection is the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which counted 8,400,000 refugees worldwide at the beginning of 2006. This was the lowest number since 1980.[7] The major exception is the 4,600,000 Palestinian refugees under the authority of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).[8] In June 2011 the UNHCR estimated the number of refugees to 15.1 million.[9] The majority of refugees who leave their country seek asylum in countries neighboring their country of nationality. The "durable solutions" to refugee populations, as defined by UNHCR and governments, are: voluntary repatriation to the country of origin; local integration into the country of asylum; and resettlement to a third country.[10]


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