What does it mean to be a refugee?
Around the globe, there
are approximately 60 million people who have been forced to leave their homes to escape war, violence, and persecution. The majority of them have become internally displaced
persons, which means they have fled their
homes but are still within their own countries. Others
have crossed a border and sought shelter outside of their own countries.
They are commonly referred to as refugees. But what exactly does that term mean?
The world has known
refugees for millennia, but the modern definition was drafted in the UN's 1951
Convention relating to the status of refugees in response to mass persecutions
and displacements of the Second World War. It defines a refugee as someone who
is outside their country of nationality and is unable to return to their home
country because of well-founded fears of being persecuted. That persecution may
be due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social
group, or political opinion, and is often related to war and violence.
Today, roughly half the
world's refugees are children, some of them unaccompanied by an adult, a situation
that makes them especially vulnerable to child labour or sexual exploitation. Each
refugee's story is different, and many must undergo dangerous journeys with
uncertain let's clear one thing up. There's a lot of confusion regarding the
difference between the terms "migrant" and "refugee." "Migrants"
usually refers to people who leave their country for reasons not related to
persecution, such as searching for better economic opportunities or leaving
drought-stricken areas in search of better circumstances.
There are many people
around the world who have been displaced because of natural disasters, food
insecurities, and other hardships, but international law, rightly or wrongly,
only recognises those fleeing conflict and violence as refugees. So what happens
when someone flees their country? Most refugee journeys are long and perilous with
limited access to shelter, water, or food. Since the departure can be sudden
and unexpected, belongings might be left behind, and people who are evading
conflict often do not have the required documents, like visas, to board
airplanes and legally enter other countries. Financial and political factors
can also prevent them from travelling by standard routes. This means they can
usually only travel by land or sea and may need to entrust their lives to
smugglers to help them cross borders.
Whereas some people seek
safety with their families, others attempt passage alone and leave their loved
ones behind with the hopes of being reunited later. This separation can be traumatic
and unbearably long. While more than half the world's refugees are in cities, sometimes
the first stop for a person fleeing conflict is a refugee camp, usually run by
the United Nations Refugee Agency or local governments. Refugee camps are intended
to be temporary structures, offering short-term shelter until inhabitants can
safely return home, be integrated into the host country, or resettle in another
country. But resettlement and long-term integration options are often limited. So
many refugees are left with no choice but to remain in camps for years and
sometimes even decades.
Once in a new country,
the first legal step for a displaced person is to apply for asylum. At this
point, they are an asylum seeker and not officially recognized as a refugee
until the application has been accepted. While countries by and large agree on
one definition of refugee, every host country is responsible for examining all
requests for asylum and deciding whether applicants can be granted the status
of refugee. Different countries guidelines can vary substantially.
Host countries have
several duties towards people they have recognized as refugees, like the
guarantee of a minimum standard of treatment and non-discrimination. The most
basic obligation towards refugees is non-refoulment, a principle preventing a
nation from sending an individual to a country where their life and freedom are
threatened. In reality, however, refugees are frequently the victims of
inconsistent and discriminatory treatment. They're increasingly obliged to
rebuild their lives in the face of xenophobia and racism. And all too often,
they aren't permitted to enter the workforce and are fully dependent on
humanitarian aid. In addition, far too many refugee children are out of school due
to lack of funding for education programs.
If you go back in your
own family history, chances are you will discover that at a certain point, your
ancestors were forced from their homes, either escaping a war or fleeing
discrimination and persecution. It would be good of us to remember their
stories when we hear of refugees currently displaced, searching for a new home.
Source: TED Ed – By Benedetta
Berti and Evelien Borgman