The recent use of chemical weapons in Syria has once again brought attention to the country and its citizens, those remaining within Syrian territory and facts about refugees who have been forced to flee. The conflict in Syria has created an unprecedented amount of refugees, the largest number on record. The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees defines a refugee as “any person forced to flee from their country by violence or persecution.”

The journey of the refugee is riddled with uncertainty. The person is forced to leave their home and become an asylum seeker. The asylum seeker enters a foreign state in search of refugee status. For many asylum seekers, the journey is perilous. Traditional and safe forms of transportation across state boundaries are rare. For Syrians hoping to make landfall in Europe or Libya, options were limited and sea voyages were often part of the journey.

The lack of adequate vessels and safety equipment led gave way to unfortunately high mortality rates on the sea. The images emerging from the shores of Greece, Turkey and Libya capture the dire situation under which this journey was made. Major media outlets have published images showing refugees tired, distressed or worse. What is missing from this seemingly hopeless narrative are the rights guaranteed to these people as global citizens.

Refugees are entitled to certain rights. These persons are entitled to security, are not to be involuntarily returned to the country from which they are fleeing and should receive the same rights as other foreign nationals. Often, the influx of large quantities of people into already fragile economies creates an environment that does not allow the refugee the living conditions and opportunities for education, work and healthcare that are called for by human rights standards.

Often the very meaning of the word refugee is misunderstood. Surrounding the issue of displaced persons are numerous misconceptions and the facts are lost in assumptions. In hopes of clarity and dissuading any misconceptions about who refugees are, here are some facts about refugees:

Facts About Refugees

  • Around 65 million people are displaced currently; this number accounts for refugees living inside and outside the country where they are facing persecution.
  • More than half of refugees are produced by only three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan.
  • More than half of the refugees around the world are under the age of 18. These children are five times less likely to be enrolled in school.
  • Lack of economic opportunity and poverty do not qualify a person as a refugee.
  • Refugee crises are far-reaching and impact almost every continent. The Middle East and North Africa is not the only region impacted by refugees.
  • The average length of displacement is more than 10 years.
  • Being granted asylum in a state does not guarantee resettlement in that state.
  • In 2016, 189,900 refugees were resettled, compared to the 22.5 million refugees that were living outside their home country.
  • African and Middle Eastern countries host more than half of all current refugees. European countries and the Americas account for a little more than 30 percent of refugees.
  • The United States accepted the largest amount of refugees in its modern history in 1980.
  • The United States Refugee Admission Ceiling in FY 2016 was 85,000 persons.

The story of the refugee cannot be easily described through numbers and statistics. The larger narrative is more complex than can be easily summarized into key facts. The numbers neglect the individual experience of the refugee. These facts about refugees not do justice to the larger issue of statelessness but rather offer a snapshot of the problems facing displaced persons and the global community.

As these facts about refugees illustrate, refugees are often subjected to living in extreme poverty due to lack of resources available in camps and the slow, bureaucratic process of resettlement. These individuals lack access to adequate healthcare, education and opportunity for economic growth. Camps intended for emergency shelter become long-term solutions. There are many organizations doing incredible work to provide food, shelter and services to displaced persons.

– Madison Shea Lamanna

Photo: Flickr