A refugee is a person who is outside his or her country of origin or habitual residence because they have suffered (or fear) persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or because they are a member of a persecuted 'social group' 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.
Although similar and frequently confused with refugees, Internally displaced persons have a different legal definition and are essentially refugees who have not crossed any international border. At the end of 2012 the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported that there were 15.4 million refugees worldwide. By contrast there were 28.8 million (about twice as many) IDPs at the end of 2012
- 1 Definition
- 2 History
- 3 UNHCR
- 4 International attitude
- 5 Reasons for refugee crises
- 6 Refugee absorption solutions
- 7 Historical and contemporary crises
- 7.1 Movements in Africa
- 7.2 Movements in the Americas
- 7.3 Movements in Asia
- 7.3.1 Afghanistan
- 7.3.2 Dissolution of the British Raj, The Partition of 1947 and Independence
- 7.3.3 Bangladeshis in India in 1971
- 7.3.4 Pakistani Biharis in Bangladesh after 1971
- 7.3.5 Rohingyas in Bangladesh and Pakistan from Burma
- 7.3.6 Himalayas
- 7.3.7 Sri Lanka
- 7.3.8 Jammu and Kashmir
- 7.3.9 Tajikistan civil war
- 7.3.10 Uzbekistan
- 7.3.11 Southeast Asia (Vietnam War)
- 7.4 Movements in Europe
- 7.5 Movements in the Middle East
- 7.5.1 Assyrian Christians transfers and forced migrations between 1843 and the 21st century
- 7.5.2 Arab-Israeli wars 1947-1973
- 7.5.3 Lebanon Civil War crisis
- 7.5.4 Cyprus crisis of 1974
- 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 2011 Syrian refugees
- 7.5.10 Religious minorities in the Middle East
- 8 Refugee issues
- 9 Notes
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
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".
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, elegible 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 displaced persons who may fall outside the legal definition in the Convention, either because they have left their home countries because of war and not because of a fear of persecution, or because they have been forced to migrate within their home countries. The Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, adopted by the Organization of African Unity in 1969. Accepted the definition of the 1951 Refugee Convention and expanded it to include people who left their countries of origin not only because of persecution but also due to acts of external aggression, occupation, domination by foreign powers or serious disturbances of public order.
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. 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). In June 2011 the UNHCR estimated the number of refugees to 15.1 million. 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.
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 Ethelbert 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.
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). From the 19th century, a large portion of the Muslim peoples (termed 'Muhacir' under a general definition) of the Balkans, Caucasus, Crimea and Crete took refuge in present-day Turkey and shaped that country's fundamental features. The Balkan Wars of 1912–1913 caused 800,000 people to leave their homes. Various groups of people were officially designated refugees beginning in World War I.
League of Nations
The first international co-ordination on refugee affairs came with the League of Nations' appointment of Fridtjof Nansen to the newly created post of High Commissioner for Refugees. This position, and the attendant Commission, was set up in 1921 to assist the approximately 1,500,000 people who fled the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent civil war (1917–1921), most of them aristocrats fleeing the Communist government. 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 to include Assyrians and Turkish refugees. 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 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey involved some two million people, most forcibly made refugees and de jure denaturalized from homelands of centuries or millennia, in a treaty promoted and overseen by the international community as part of the Treaty of Lausanne.
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. 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.
In 1930, the Nansen International Office for Refugees was established as a successor agency to the Commission. Its most notable achievement was the Nansen passport, a passport for refugees, for which it was awarded the 1938 Nobel Peace Prize. The Nansen Office was plagued by problems of financing, an increase in refugee numbers, and a lack of co-operation from some member states, which led to mixed success overall. However, it managed to lead fourteen nations to ratify the Refugee Convention of 1933, an early, and relatively modest, attempt at a human rights charter, and in general assisted around one million refugees worldwide.
The rise of Nazism led to such a severe increase in the number of refugees from Germany that in 1933 the League created a High Commission for Refugees Coming from Germany. 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). The mandate of this High Commission was subsequently expanded to include persons from Austria and Sudetenland. 150,000 Czechs were displaced after October 1, 1938, when the German army entered the border regions of Czechoslovakia surrendered in accordance with the Munich Agreement.
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. 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.
World War II and UNHCR
The conflict and political instability during World War II led to massive amounts of enforced migration (see World War II evacuation and expulsion). By the end of World War II, Europe had more than 40 million refugees. 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. This included 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.
In the last months of World War II some five million German civilians from the German provinces of East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia fled the onslaught of the Red Army and became refugees in Mecklenburg, Brandenburg and Saxony. After the capitulation of the Wehrmacht in May 1945 the Allies occupied Germany in the borders as they were on 31 December 1937, as agreed to in the Berlin declaration of 5 June 1945. Since the spring of 1945 the Poles had been forcefully expelling the remaining German population in these provinces in a program of ethnic cleansing. When the Allies met in Potsdam on 17 July 1945 at the Potsdam Conference, a chaotic refugee situation faced the occupying powers. On 2 August 1945, they established the Potsdam protocol. Article IX placed one fourth of Germany's territory under provisional Polish administration and Article XIII ordered that the remaining German populations in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary be transferred West in an "orderly and humane" manner.
Although not approved by Allies at Potsdam, hundreds of thousands of ethnic German 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, Austria and the Federal Republic of Germany. This entailed the largest population transfer in history. In all 15 million Germans were affected, and more than two million perished during the expulsion of the German population. (See Flight and expulsion of Germans (1944–1950).) Between the end of World War II and the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, more than 563,700 refugees from East Germany traveled to West Germany for asylum from the Soviet occupation.
During the same period, millions of former Russian citizens were forcefully repatriated against their will into the USSR. On 11 February 1945, at the conclusion of the Yalta Conference, the United States and United Kingdom signed a Repatriation Agreement with the USSR. 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.
At the end of World War II, there were more than 5 million "displaced persons" from the Soviet Union in the Western Europe. About 3 million had been forced laborers (Ostarbeiters) in Germany and occupied territories. 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. The survivors on their return to the USSR were treated as traitors (see Order No. 270). Over 1.5 million surviving Red Army soldiers imprisoned by the Nazis were sent to the Gulag.
Poland and Soviet Ukraine conducted population exchanges – Poles who resided east of the newly established Poland-Soviet border were deported to Poland (ca. 2,100,000 persons) (see Repatriation of Poles) and Ukrainians residing west of the new border were deported to Soviet Ukraine. Population transfer to Soviet Ukraine occurred from September 1944 to May 1946 (ca. 450,000 persons) (see Repatriation of Ukrainians). Some Ukrainians (ca. 200,000 persons) left southeast Poland more or less voluntarily (between 1944 and 1945).
The UNRRA was shut down in 1947, at which time it was taken over by the newly instituted International Refugee Organization. While the handover was originally planned to take place at the beginning of 1947, it did not occur until July 1947. The International Refugee Organization was a temporary organization of the United Nations (UN), which itself had been founded in 1945, with a mandate to largely finish the UNRRA's work of repatriating or resettling European refugees. It was dissolved in 1952 after resettling about one million refugees. The definition of a refugee at this time was an individual with either a Nansen passport or a "Certificate of Eligibility" issued by the International Refugee Organization.««»»
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 Arabs who fled the future Jewish state between 1947 and 1949 (see below), and their descendants. However, Palestinian Arabs who fled the West Bank and Gaza after 1949 (for example, during the 1967 Six Day war) are under the jurisdiction of the UNHCR.
UNHCR provides protection and assistance not only to refugees, but also to other categories of displaced or needy 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.
It succeeded the earlier International Refugee Organization and the even earlier United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (which itself succeeded the League of Nations' Commissions for Refugees).
UNHCR was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1954 and 1981. 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.
Many celebrities are associated with the agency as UNHCR Goodwill Ambassadors, currently including Angelina Jolie, Giorgio Armani and others. The individual who has raised the most money in benefit performances and volunteer work on behalf of UNHCR was Luciano Pavarotti.
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.
Under international law, refugees are individuals who:
- 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.
- The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees; also referred to as the Geneva Convention;
- The 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees;
- The 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa
- The 1974 United Nations Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict
World Refugee Day
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.
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.
Reasons for refugee crises
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. 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, he or she is officially referred to as a refugee and enjoys refugee status, which carries certain rights and obligations according to the legislation of the receiving country.
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.
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, over one in four decisions to refuse an asylum seeker protection UK is LASSN Campaigners have suggested that this figure suggests the process of allocation refugee status is inefficient or flawed.
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.
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.
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.
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" or "climate change refugees". The term 'environmental refugee' is also commonly used and an estimate 25 million people can currently be classified as such. 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 likely unrealistic. 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. 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. 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.
Very rarely, refugees have been used and recruited as refugee warriors, and the humanitarian aid directed at refugee relief has very rarely been utilized to fund the acquisition of arms. Support from a refugee-receiving state has rarely been used to enable refugees to mobilize militarily, enabling conflict to spread across borders.
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).
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
The term "boat people" came into common use in the 1970s with the mass exodus of Vietnamese refugees following the Vietnam War. It is a widely used form of migration for people migrating from Cuba, Haiti, Morocco, Vietnam or Albania. They often risk their lives on dangerously crude and overcrowded boats to escape oppression or poverty in their home nations. Events resulting from the Vietnam War led many people in Cambodia, Laos, and especially Vietnam to become refugees in the late 1970s and 1980s. In 2001, 353 asylum seekers sailing from Indonesia to Australia drowned when their vessel sank.
The main danger to a boat person is that the boat he or she is sailing in may actually be anything that floats and is large enough for passengers. Although such makeshift craft can result in tragedy, in 2003 a small group of 5 Cuban refugees attempted (unsuccessfully, but un-harmed) to reach Florida in a 1950s pickup truck made buoyant by oil barrels strapped to its sides.
Boat people are frequently a source of controversy in the nation they seek to immigrate to, such as the United States, New Zealand, Germany, France, Russia, Canada, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Spain and Australia. Boat people are often forcibly prevented from landing at their destination, such as under Australia's Pacific Solution (which operated from 2001 until 2008), or they are subjected to mandatory detention after their arrival.
Refugee absorption solutions
A refugee camp is a place built by governments or 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.
Resettlement involves the assisted movement of refugees who are unable to return home to safe third countries. The UNHCR has traditionally seen resettlement as the least preferable of the "durable solutions" to refugee situations. However, in April 2000 the then UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, stated:
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.
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.” 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. 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.
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.
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.
In terms of resettlement departures, in 2008, 65,548 refugees were resettled in 26 countries, up from 49,868 in 2007. 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). Note that these are the countries that refugees were resettled from, not their countries of origin.
A number of third countries run specific resettlement programmes in co-operation with UNHCR. The size of these programmes is shown in the table. 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 with an initial annual quota of 500, which rose to 750 in the financial year 2008/09.
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.
Between 1981, when Japan ratified the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and 2002, Japan recognized only 305 persons as refugees. According to the UNHCR, in 2006 Japan accepted 26 refugees for resettlement.
The United States helped resettle roughly 2 million refugees between 1945 and 1979, when their refugee resettlement program was restructured. They now make use of 11 “Voluntary Agencies" (VOLAGS), which are non-governmental organizations that assist the government in the resettlement process. These organizations assist the refugees with the day-to-day needs of the large transition into a completely new culture. Usually, they are not funded by the government, but instead rely on their own resources and volunteers. Most of them have local offices, and caseworkers that provide individualized aid to each refugee’s situation. They do rely on the sponsorship of individuals or groups, such as faith-based congregations or local organizations. The largest of the VOLAGS is the Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Catholic Conference. Others include Church World Service, Episcopal Migration Ministries, the Ethiopian Community Development Council, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the International Rescue Committee, Lutheran Immigration Services, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, and World Relief.
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. VOLAGS are also more flexible and responsive than the government since they are smaller and rely on their own funds.
Right of return
Even in a supposedly "post-conflict" environment, it is not a simple process for refugees to return home. 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. 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). Therefore, the following are of particular importance to the right to return:
- 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).
Historical and contemporary crises
Movements in Africa
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 division of Africa into European colonies in 1885, along which lines the newly independent nations of the 1950s and 1960s drew their borders, has been cited as a major reason why Africa has been so plagued with intrastate warfare. The number of refugees in Africa increased from 860,000 in 1968 to 6,775,000 by 1992. By the end of 2004, that number had dropped to 2,748,400 refugees, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. (That figure does not include internally displaced persons, who do not cross international borders and so do not fit the official definition of refugee.)
Many refugees in Africa cross into neighboring countries to find haven; often, African countries are simultaneously countries of origin for refugees and countries of asylum for other refugees. The Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, was the country of origin for 462,203 refugees at the end of 2004, but a country of asylum for 199,323 other refugees.
Countries in Africa from where 5,000 or more refugees originated as of the end of 2004 are listed below. The largest number of refugees are from Sudan and have fled either the longstanding and recently concluded Sudanese Civil War or the Darfur conflict and are located mainly in Chad, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
Decolonisation during the 1960s and 1970s often resulted in the mass exodus of European-descended settlers out of Africa – especially from North Africa (1.6 million European pieds noirs), Congo, Mozambique and Angola. 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.
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 persons were killed, four million were displaced internally and another half million fled as refugees.
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. Uganda's 80,000 Asians were mostly Indians born in the country. India had refused to accept them. Most of the expelled Indians eventually settled in the United Kingdom, Canada and in the United States.
The Lord's Resistance Army insurgency forced many civilians to live in internally displaced person camps.
Great Lakes crisis
In the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, over two million people fled into neighboring countries, in particular Zaire. The refugee camps were soon controlled by the former government and Hutu militants who used the camps as bases to launch attacks against the new government in Rwanda. Little action was taken to resolve the situation and the crisis did not end until Rwanda-supported rebels forced the refugees back across the border at the beginning of the First Congo War.
An estimated 2.5 million people, roughly one-third the population of the Darfur area, have been forced to flee their homes after attacks by Janjaweed Arab militia backed by Sudanese troops during the ongoing Darfur conflict in western Sudan since roughly 2003.
African refugees in Israel
Since 2003, an estimated 70,000 illegal immigrants from various African countries have crossed into Israel. 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. 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". African refugees are 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.
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. 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."
African refugees in Egypt
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.
Western Sahara conflict
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. 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.
Libyan Civil War
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.
Movements in the Americas
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 and genocide there as well. These people went to Southern Mexico and the U.S.
From 1991 through 1994, following the military coup d'état against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, thousands of Haitians fled violence and repression by boat. Although most were repatriated to Haiti by the U.S. government, others entered the United States as refugees. Haitians were primarily regarded as economic migrants from the grinding poverty of Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
The victory of the forces led by Fidel Castro in the Cuban Revolution led to a large exodus of Cubans between 1959 and 1980. Thousands of Cubans yearly continue to risk the waters of the Straits of Florida seeking better economic and political conditions in the U.S. In 1999 the highly publicized case of six-year-old Elián González brought the covert migration to international attention. Measures by both governments have attempted to address the issue; the U.S. instituted a wet feet, dry feet policy allowing refuge to those travelers who manage to complete their journey, and the Cuban government have periodically allowed for mass migration by organizing leaving posts. The most famous of these agreed migrations was the Mariel boatlift of 1980.
Colombia has one of the world's largest populations of internally displaced persons (IDPs), with estimates ranging from 2.6 to 4.3 million people, due to the ongoing Colombian armed conflict. The larger figure is cumulative since 1985. 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.
During the Vietnam War, many U.S. citizens who were conscientious objectors and wished to avoid the draft sought political asylum in Canada. President Jimmy Carter issued an amnesty. Since 1975, the U.S. has resettled approximately 2.6 million refugees, with nearly 77% being either Indochinese or citizens of the former Soviet Union. Since the enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980, annual admissions figures have ranged from a high of 207,116 in 1980 to a low of 27,100 in 2002.
Currently, nine national voluntary agencies resettle refugees nationwide on behalf of the U.S. government: Church World Service, Ethiopian Community Development Council, Episcopal Migration Ministries, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, International Rescue Committee, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and World Relief.
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA (JRS/USA) has worked to help resettle Bhutanese refugees in the United States. The mission of JRS/USA is to accompany, serve and defend the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. JRS/USA is one of 10 geographic regions of Jesuit Refugee Service, an international Catholic organization sponsored by the Society of Jesus. In coordination with JRS’s International Office in Rome, JRS/USA provides advocacy, financial and human resources for JRS regions throughout the world.
The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) funds a number of organizations that provide technical assistance to voluntary agencies and local refugee resettlement organizations. 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.
Movements in Asia
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. Approximately 3.5 million from Pakistan 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.
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. 935,600 registered Afghans are living in Iran, which also include the ones born inside Iran.
Dissolution of the British Raj, The Partition of 1947 and Independence
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.
Bangladeshis in India in 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.
Pakistani Biharis in Bangladesh after 1971
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.
Rohingyas in Bangladesh and Pakistan from Burma
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. Many have lived there for close to twenty years. The Bangladeshi government divides the Rohingya into two categories - recognized refugees living in official camps and unrecognized refugees living in unofficial sites or among Bangladeshi communities. Around 30,000 Rohingyas are residing in two camps in Nayapara and Kutupalong area of Cox's Bazar district in Bangladesh. These camp residents have access to basic services, those outside do not. With no changes inside Burma in sight, Bangladesh must come to terms with the long-term needs of all the Rohingya refugees in the country, and allow international organizations to expand services that benefit the Rohingya as well as local communities.
The agency has been supporting Rohingya refugees staying in the camps. On the other hand, it is not receiving applications for refugee status from the newly arrived Rohingyas. This amounts to compromising of its mandate. The brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Arakan State by the Burmese military in 1991-92 thousands of people have been detained in crowded refugee camps in Bangladesh and tens of thousands have been repatriated to Burma to face further repression. There are widespread allegations of religious persecution, use of forced labor and denial of citizenship of many Rohingya forced to return to Burma since 1996. Many have fled again to Bangladesh to seek work or shelter, or flee from Burmese military oppression, and some are forced across the border by Burmese security forces. In the past few months, abuses against Rohingya in Arakan State has continued, including strict registration laws that continue to deny Rohingya citizenship, restrictions on movement, land confiscation and forced evictions to make way for Buddhist Burmese settlements, widespread forced labor in infrastructure projects and closure of some mosques, including nine in North Buthidaung Township of Western Arakan State in the last half of 2006.
After the 1959 Tibetan exodus, there are more than 150,000 Tibetans who live in India, many in settlements in Dharamsala and Mysore, and Nepal. These include people who have escaped over the Himalayas from Tibet, as well as their children and grandchildren. In India the overwhelming majority of Tibetans born in India are still stateless and carry a document called an Identity Card issued by the Indian government in lieu of a passport. This document states the nationality of the holder as Tibetan. It is a document that is frequently rejected as a valid travel document by many customs and immigrations departments. The Tibetan refugees also own a Green Book issued by the Tibetan Government in Exile for rights and duties towards this administration.
In 1991–92, Bhutan expelled roughly 100,000 ethnic Nepalis known as Lhotshampas from the southern part of the country. Most of them have been living in seven refugee camps run by UNHCR in eastern Nepal ever since; some of them resettled in India. In March 2008, this population began a multiyear resettlement to third countries including the United States, New Zealand, Denmark, Canada, Norway and Australia. At present, the United States is working towards resettling more than 60,000 of these refugees in the US as a third country settlement programme.
The civil war in Sri Lanka, from 1983 to 2009 had generated thousands of internally displaced people as well as refugees most of them being the Tamils. Many Sri Lankans have fled to neighbourly India and western countries such as Canada, France, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Germany.
While successive policies of discrimination and intimidation of the Tamils drove thousands to flee seeking asylum, the brutal end to the Civil War and the ongoing repression have forced a wave of thousands of refugees migrate, to countries like Canada, the UK and especially Australia. Australia in particular, receives hundreds of refugees every month.
About 69,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees live in 112 camps in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Jammu and Kashmir
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. Some have found refuge in Jammu and it's 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.
Tajikistan civil war
Since 1991, much of the country's non-Muslim population, including Russians and Bukharian Jews, have fled Tajikistan due to severe poverty, instability and Tajikistan Civil War (1992–1997). In 1992, most of the country’s Jewish population was evacuated to Israel. 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.
The 2010 ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan left some 300,000 people internally displaced. Another 100,000 refugees crossed the border into Uzbekistan.
Southeast Asia (Vietnam War)
Following the communist takeovers in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in 1975, about three million people attempted to escape in the subsequent decades. With massive influx of refugees daily, the resources of the receiving countries were severely strained. The plight of the boat people became an international humanitarian crisis. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) set up refugee camps in neighboring countries to process the boat people. The budget of the UNHCR increased from $80 million in 1975 to $500 million in 1980. Partly for its work in Indochina, the UNHCR was awarded the 1981 Nobel Peace Prize.
- Large numbers of Vietnamese refugees came into existence after 1975 when South Vietnam fell to the communist forces. Many tried to escape, some by boat, thus giving rise to the phrase "boat people". The Vietnamese refugees emigrated to Hong Kong, France, the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries, creating sizeable expatriate communities, notably in the United States. Since 1975, an estimated 1.4 million refugees from Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries have been resettled to the United States. Most Asian countries were unwilling to accept refugees.
- 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 Secret War in Laos. 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.
- 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, over 55,000 Burmese refugees have been resettled in the United States.
- Muslim ethnic groups from Burma, the Rohingya and other Arakanese have been living in camps in Bangladesh since the 1990s.
Movements in Europe
World War II refugee issues
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.
The Evian Conference, Bermuda Conference, and others 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.
According to the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, a network of European refugee-assisting non-governmental organizations (NGOs), huge differences exist between national asylum systems in Europe, making the asylum system a 'lottery' for refugees. For example, Iraqis who flee their home country and end up in Germany have an 85% chance of being recognised as a refugee and those who apply for asylum in Slovenia do not get a protection status at all.
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.
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 Bulgaria, Romania or elsewhere.
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.
Beginning in 1991, political upheavals in the Balkans 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 Europe. In 1999, about one million Albanians escaped from Serbian persecution.
Today there are still thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons in the Balkan Region 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.
Refugees and IDPs in Serbia form between 7% and 7.5% of its population – about half a million refugees sought refuge in the country following the series of Yugoslav wars (from Croatia mainly, to an extent Bosnia and Herzegovina too and the IDPs from Kosovo, which are the most numerous at over 200,000). Serbia has the largest refugee population in Europe.
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.
More than 250,000 people, mostly Georgians but some others too, were the victims of forcible displacement and ethnic-cleansing from Abkhazia during the War in Abkhazia between 1992 and 1993, and afterwards in 1993 and 1998.
As a result of 1991–1992 South Ossetia War, about 100,000 ethnic Ossetians fled South Ossetia and Georgia proper, most across the border into North Ossetia. A further 23,000 ethnic Georgians fled South Ossetia and settled in other parts of Georgia.
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.
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. 280,000 persons—virtually all ethnic Armenians—fled Azerbaijan during the 1988–1993 war over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. 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.
Movements in the Middle East
Assyrian Christians transfers and forced migrations between 1843 and the 21st century
In his recent PhD thesis and in his recent book the Israeli scholar Mordechai Zaken discussed the history of the Assyrian Christians 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 Assyrian Christians 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 European and western countries (the USA, Canada, Australia, New-Zealand, Sweden, France, to mention some of these countries). Mordechai Zaken wrote this important study from an analytical and comparative point of view, comparing the Assyrian Christians 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 Assyrian Christians 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 Assyrian Christians live today in exiled and prosperous communities in the west.
Arab-Israeli wars 1947-1973
The Palestinian refugee crisis is a product of the conflict for the political control over historic Palestine. To some early Zionist leaders, the forceful removal of the Gentile inhabitants of historic Palestine was always a necessity to the end of establishing a truly Jewish state in region — an opinion recorded much before the refugee crisis began. The first and largest wave of Palestinian refugees fleeing their historical lands, however, took place only in early 1948, shortly after the Deir Yassin massacre—preceding, therefore, the first war between Israel and Arab states. Expulsions of Palestinians continued to happen for some years after the end of the war. According to files belonging to the Israeli army that came under the attention of Israeli historians such as Benny Morris, the overwhelming majority (about 70%) of Palestinian refugees left their lands under direct military assaults by Zionist terror groups, like the Haganah, Irgun and Lehi. Smaller percentages fled under expulsion orders of recently established Jewish authorities and psychological operations on the part of Jews (for example, the spread of rumors of massacres of Palestinians by Zionist forces). Voluntary immigration is the factor to which Israel traditionally ascribes the refugee crisis, but according to the aforementioned Israeli government files, it accounts for only a tiny percentage of the Palestinian refugee population. By the end of 1948, there were about 700,000 Palestinian refugees.
Following the departure of refugees, Israel annexed their properties and lands, and freezed the money and bank accounts they left behind. Jewish ownership of the land, which by late 1947 accounted for less than 6% of historic Palestine and less than 10% of the territory the UN allotted to the Jewish state, swole, fed also by land confiscations of Palestinians who remained in the region and are now known as Israeli Arabs. Under Israel's Prevention of Infiltration Law, Palestinian refugees and their descendants are still precluded from returning to their ancestral lands to reclaim the properties they left behind, which now have been mostly distributed to Jewish immigrants. Palestinian refugees who crossed the border back to their homes in order to reclaim them were subjected to beatings and torture by Israeli security forces.
Palestinian refugees 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 from lands that are now part of Israel—three fourths of Gaza's population, for example, are of refugees from 1948. Until 1967, the West Bank and Gaza were officially ruled, respectively, by Egypt and Transjordan, whose Hashemite Kingdom was the one Arab government to grant citizenship to Palestinian refugees. Most Arab states have refused to absorb Palestinians as citizens for this would annul their right to claim lands and properties annexed by Israel.
Dispossession and displacement of Palestinians continued in the decades after Israel's independence. Israel has admitted to, between 1967 and 1994, the year of the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, revoking the residency rights of 250,000 Palestinians in the occupied territories who left temporarily to study and work abroad.
During the 1967 war, about 400,000 Palestinians, half of whom 1948 refugees, fled their lands in the West Bank under attacks by the Israeli army and settled in what was left of Jordan. In the 2000s, Israel blacklisted the refugees from that war to impede them from returning and reclaiming their properties and lands, which have been allocated to Jewish-only settlements and Israeli military bases.
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. are legally defined to include descendants of refugees, as well as others who might otherwise be considered internally displaced persons.
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.
Jews of Arab and Muslim countries
Jews have lived in what are now Arab states at least since the Babylonian captivity (597 BCE). Most of them have migrated to Israel in the first few years of its declaration of independence. The refugee status of this population is disputed. Many in Israel argue that Middle Eastern Jews fled their native countries over discrimination and persecution heightened in the wake of Israel's creation and its expulsion campaign of Palestinians.As an acknowledgment of the "plight" of Jews from the Middle East, resolutions (H.Res.185 and S.Res.85) were proposed to the US Senate and Congress, to:
Make clear that the United States Government supports the position that, as an integral part of any comprehensive peace, the issue of refugees and the mass violations of human rights of minorities in Arab and Muslim countries throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf must be resolved in a manner that includes (A) consideration of the legitimate rights of all refugees displaced from Arab and Muslim countries throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf; and (B) recognition of the losses incurred by Jews, Christians, and other minority groups as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Still, some Israeli academics and leaders deny Oriental Jews came to Israel as refugees, pointing out that many decided to migrate despite leading comfortable lives in the Arab world and arrived to Israel under the directive of underground Zionist activists acting on behalf of the Israeli state.
Some Arab countries, like Iraq, did take a number of measures against Jews who left the country, including the confiscation of assets left behind.
According to official Arab statistics, 856,000 Jews left their homes in Arab countries from 1948 until the early 1970s. Approximately 600,000-700,000 of Jewish refugees flooded into Israel, and were largely housed in temporary transition camps, called ma'abarot. 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.
Internally displaced Syrians from the Golan Heights
After the 1967 war, when Israel launched surprise attacks on Egypt and Syrian, annexing their territories — in a move not recognized by international law — Israel destroyed 139 Syrian villages in the occupied territory of the Golan Heights and expelled 130,000 of its residents from their lands, which now serve the purpose of harboring Jewish-only settlements and military bases. About 9,000 Syrians, all of whom of the Druze ethno-religious group, were allowed to remain in their lands.
Lebanon Civil War crisis
The 2006 Lebanon War temporarily displaced approximately one million Lebanese and approximately 500,000 Israelis, although most were able to return to their homes. 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 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.
Cyprus crisis of 1974
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. The separation of the two communities via the UN patrolled Green Line prohibited the return of all internally displaced people.
Kurdish population displacement due to Turkish conflict
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. 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.
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 Persian Gulf War (1990–91). At least one million Iraqi Kurds were displaced during the Al-Anfal Campaign (1986–1989).
Refugees of the Gulf War
The Palestinian expulsion from Kuwait or "1991 Palestinian exodus from Kuwait" took place at the end of the Gulf War, when Kuwait expelled almost 450,000 Palestinians. The policy which led to this exodus was a response to the alignment of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the PLO with Saddam Hussein, who had earlier invaded Kuwait. The exodus took place during one week in March 1991, following Kuwait's liberation from Iraqi occupation.
Iraq War (2003-today)
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. 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. Only 1% of the total Iraqi displaced population was estimated to be in the Western countries.
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. Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan live in impoverished communities with little international attention to their plight and little legal protection. In Syria alone an estimated 50,000 Iraqi girls and women, many of them widows, are forced into prostitution just to survive.
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. 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.
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.
Mandaeans and Yazidis
Furthermore, the small Mandaean and Yazidi communities are at the risk of elimination due to ethnic cleansing by Islamic militants. Entire neighborhoods in Baghdad were ethnically cleansed by Shia and Sunni Militias. Satellite shows ethnic cleansing in Iraq was key factor in "surge" success.
Refugees in Jordan
Jordan has one of the world's largest immigrant populations with some sources putting the immigrant percentage to being 60%. Iraqi refugees number between 750,000 and 1 million in Jordan with most living in Amman. Jordan also has Armenian, Chechen, Circassian minorities, and about half of its population is said to be of Palestinian refugees and their descendents.
2011 Syrian refugees
Religious minorities in the Middle East
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. The question of Jewish, Christian and other refugees from Arab and Muslim countries was introduced in March 2007 in the US congress.
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.
Among other symptoms, post-traumatic stress disorder involves anxiety, over-alertness, sleeplessness, chronic fatigue syndrome, motor difficulties, failing short term memory, amnesia, nightmares and sleep-paralysis. Flashbacks are characteristic to the disorder: the patient experiences the traumatic event, or pieces of it, again and again. Depression is also characteristic for PTSD-patients and may also occur without accompanying PTSD.
PTSD was diagnosed in 34.1% of Palestinian children, most of whom were refugees, males, and working. The participants were 1,000 children aged 12 to 16 years from governmental, private, and United Nations Relief Work Agency UNRWA schools in East Jerusalem and various governorates in the West Bank.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Refugee number statistics taken from 'Refugee', Encyclopædia Britannica CD Edition 2004.
- Peter Fell and Debra Hayes, "What are they doing here? A critical guide to asylum and immigration." Venture Press 2007.
- Matthew J. Gibney, "The Ethics and Politics of Asylum: Liberal Democracy and the Response to Refugees," Cambridge University Press 2004
- Tony Waters, Bureaucatizing the Good Samaritan, Westview Press, 2001.
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