Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Internally Displaced Persons

Photograph of a Vietnamese child in a Malaysian refugee camp. She is one of the boat people, refugees who fled Vietnam in the 1970s and 1980s after the fall of Saigon.

Photograph of a Vietnamese child in a Malaysian refugee camp. She is one of the boat people, refugees who fled Vietnam in the 1970s and 1980s after the fall of Saigon.

Tibetan refugees in Nepal.

Tibetan refugees in Nepal.

The United States government defines a refugee as, "a person who has fled his or her country of origin because of past persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based upon race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or a membership in a particular social group." Closely related to the refugee is the internally displaced person (IDP). An IDP is an individual who has been forced to flee his or her home, but still remains within the political borders of his or her country. The presence of a refugee crisis or of a large number of IDPs are usually indicators that genocide is occurring.

Like Jewish families who fled Germany during the 1930s and 1940s, there are millions of people today who have been forced to leave their communities due to violent conflict. According to the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, there are about 8,536,500 "warehoused refugees" (people who are physically confined to refugee camps) in the world. Of these, over 90 percent have been residing in a refugee camp for more than ten years. The number of IDPs is even larger; the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates that there were 26,000,000 IDPs as of December 2007.

In many instances, modern refugee camps are becoming permenant homes for more than three generations of refugees. Refugees from countries such as Tibet, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka Although the United Nations' Convention on Refugees states that care for refugees is a responsibility for the international community, most countries remain wary about accepting large numbers of foreigners into their midst. For example, many African countries, such as South Africa, Chad, and Tanzania, resent having to take in refugees, when they are barely able to care for their own struggling populations. Germany had one of the most liberal asylum laws in Europe until the 1990s, when a backlash against immigrants led the government to restrict the number of refugee that could enter the country.

It is crucial to protect the rights of refugees and IDPs to prevent genocide. Ways that one can aid refugees include learning about refugee issues, providing material and emotional aid to refugees in your community, teaching new immigrants English and other skills necessary to adapting to a new culture, and donating to organizations that provide humanitarian assistance in war-torn areas. The Resources section on refugees will also provide more information about refugees and how to help them.

Works Cited

Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. "Global Statistics." Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre Home Page. http://www.internal-displacement.org/.../22FB1D4E2B196DAA802570BB005E787C?OpenDocument&count=1000 (accessed July 22, 2008).

United States Citizen and Immigration Services. "Refugee Questions and Answers." United States Citizen and Immigration Services Home Page. http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.../?vgnextoid=a57476d52bd1e010VgnVCM1000000ecd190aRCRD (accessed July 22, 2008).

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. "Darfur." Holocaust Encyclopedia. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10007263 (accessed July 21, 2008).

United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. "Warehoused Refugee Population." United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants Home Page. http://www.refugees.org/...warehoused%20refugee%20populations.pdf (accessed July 22, 2008).