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June 20, 2016

What Does It Mean to be a Refugee?

By Elise Adams

TED Ed recently published an informational video explaining what it means to be a refugee in today’s world. The United Nations 1951 convention officially defined the term as someone who is outside their country of nationality and is unable to return to their home country because of well-founded fears of being persecuted, which is often related to war and violence.

Most refugees’ journeys are long and dangerous with limited access to necessities like food, water, and shelter. They often have few, if any personal belongings due to abrupt and unexpected departures. They often do not have the required documents, like visas, that allow them to travel and enter other countries. Refugees usually have no choice but to travel by land or sea and sometimes must entrust their lives to smugglers in order to cross borders. 

Today, there are over 65 million people who have fled their homes to avoid persecution. Roughly half of them are children, some who are unaccompanied by their parents. This makes them extremely vulnerable to child labor and sexual exploitation.

Most of the world’s refugees take shelter in refugee camps, run by the United Nations Refugee Agency. Refugee camps are safe but temporary shelters, where refugees can live before their resettlement into other countries. Although refugee camps are temporary, refugees are often forced to live in these camps for years or even decades because of the complex process of resettling in another country. Meanwhile the countries hosting these refugee camps experience severe strains on their infrastructure.

Resettling refugees is an important way for the international community to help the many people displaced by violence and persecution as well as the frontline states hosting them. The United States pledged to accept 85,000 refugees, including 10,000 Syrians, this year. Unfortunately it is falling behind on even this small goal. Sign this petition to urge President Obama to keep his promise to refugees.