ETYM French réfugié, from se réfugier to take refuge. Related to Refuge.
An exile who flees for safety.
Person fleeing from oppressive or dangerous conditions (such as political, religious, or military persecution) and seeking refuge in a foreign country. In 1995 there were an estimated 23 million refugees worldwide; their resettlement and welfare is the responsibility of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). An estimated average of 10,000 people a day become refugees.
The term was originally applied to the French Huguenots who came to England after toleration of Protestantism was withdrawn with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Major refugee movements in 20th-century Europe include: Jews from the pogroms of Russia 1881–1914 and again after the Revolution; White Russians from the USSR after 1917; Jews from Germany and other Nazi-dominated countries 1933–45; the displaced people of World War II; and from 1991 victims of the the civil wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Many Chinese fled the mainland after the communist revolution of 1949, especially to Taiwan and Hong Kong; many Latin Americans fled from Cuba, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Central America when new governments took power; and many boat people left Vietnam after the victory of the North over the South. Refugee movements created by natural disasters and famine have been widespread, most notably in Ethiopia and Sudan, where civil war has also contributed. Between 1985 and 1989 the number of refugees doubled worldwide, and the Gulf War 1991 created 1.5 million refugees, though many were later able to return to their homes.
In 1993 there were more than 7 million refugees in Asia (4 million in Iran and 1.6 million in Pakistan), 5.5 million in Africa (including 1.6 million in Malawi), 4.5 million in Europe (including 2.3 million in the former Yugoslavia), and 1.8 million in the Americas. During 1992 2.4 million refugees went back to their home countries voluntarily.
A distinction is usually made by Western nations between “political” refugees and so-called “economic” refugees, who are said to be escaping from poverty rather than persecution, particularly when the refugees come from low-income countries. The latter group often become illegal immigrants; see immigration and emigration. International law recognizes the right of the persecuted to seek asylum but does not oblige states to provide it. Only 0.17% of W Europe’s population are refugees.
Internally displaced people, who have been forced to leave their homes but not crossed their country’s borders, are not recognized as refugees; they were estimated to number at least 26 million (1995).