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On World Refugee Day, UN warns that poor countries bear greater refugee burdens

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Today’s refugee population, at 15 million worldwide, is more than seven times the number of European refugees in the UNHCR’s caseload when the agency was created 60 years ago, following World War II. The three countries bearing the largest number of refugees all border warzones: Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan, at 1.9 million, and Iran and Syria, both bordering Iraq, at 1.1 million and 1 million respectively.

Refugees, displaced persons, immigrants

If there is confusion over refugees, it may have something to do with the fact that there are so many definitions and acronyms to contend with.

  • A refugee is someone who flees conflict or instability and seeks refuge in another country. There are some 15 million refugees globally.
  • An internally displaced person (IDP) is someone who flees his home because of conflict, instability, or natural causes such as drought, but remains in his own country. There are 27.5 million internally displaced persons worldwide, cut off from their farmlands and livelihoods, and many of them are dependent on international assistance to survive.
  • An asylum seeker is someone who flees his country because of political reasons and seeks a protected legal status in another country. There are 850,000 asylum seekers in the world; one fifth of them now live in South Africa.
  • An immigrant is someone who leaves his country for any and all of these reasons, or simply to seek better economic opportunities.

Conflating these different categories of people is an unfortunately common practice, whether intentional or otherwise, and can create xenophobia and put pressure on host nations to close up their doors. But closing a door does little to resolve the initial cause of mass displacement, and it can have disastrous effects on some of the world’s most vulnerable citizens.

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