Who Are Refugees?

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Refugees are those who have been forced to flee their home countries due to war, genocide, violence or other trauma beyond their control. Often, their lives have been threatened because of their race, religion, ethnicity or political beliefs. Many have witnessed unspeakable violence, including the murder of their children and other family members.

Uprooted, they flee to neighboring countries, usually without preparation, belongings, or documents and wait in camps.

If unable to return home, they apply for protection from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), hoping to resettle in a third country as a last resort. They do not have a choice in where they go. Refugees are assigned refugee status by the UNHCR.

The wait in the refugee camps can take years or even decades. Camp conditions are often dangerous and unsanitary. Food is limited, and malnourishment is common. Many younger refugee children have never known life outside the camps.

student with familyWorldwide, there are an estimated 15 million refugees, half of whom are children. Less than one percent are ever resettled. Of those fortunate few, the U.S. Department of State decides how many refugees, and from what countries of origin, are invited to the United States. Annually, approximately 200 resettle in Rhode Island.

Refugees are not immigrants. Refugees are invited to the United States (or another country) after fleeing their home country, whereas immigrants seek out relocation to the United States from their country of origin.