Information about exile
The United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees (Geneva 1951) defines refugee as a person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, ethnic background, religion, nationality, political opinion or a membership of a particular social group, and who lives outside the country of his or her nationality and is, owing to such fear, is unable or unwilling to return.
Refugees fleeing the post-election unrest in Côte d'Ivoire in spring 2011. Photo: UNHCR
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 14), everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution in other countries. According to the principle of non-refoulement, it is forbidden to return a refugee to the borders of an area where the refugee’s life or freedom is under threat because of political opinion or racial, religious or national background, or because of belonging to a social community.
Apart from persecution, people can be forced to leave for other reasons. Violence and conflicts are the most common reasons for exile, but increasingly these days, there are also people being driven from their homes and residential areas due to environmental changes such as draught and floods.
According to the secondary protection, or humanitarian protection, instead of asylum, a permit of residence can be admitted for those who have fled their country for reasons other than persecution.
80% of the world’s refugees live in developing countries. The majority of them are internally displaced persons, or evacuated people. It is estimated that more than a half of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers live in cities, whereas the majority of internally displaced persons live in the countryside.
The world’s refugees in numbers
According to the UN’s UNHCR, 80% of the world’s refugees live in developing countries. Pakistan, Iran and Syria have the highest number of refugees.
According to the UNHCR, there were nearly 44 million people fleeing from conflicts and persecution at the end of 2010. 15 million of them were refugees, 27,5 million were internally displaced persons, and 850 000 asylum seekers.
A total of 845 800 people applied for asylum during the year 2010, a fifth of them (180 600 applications) were in South-Africa. The second highest number of applications was in United States (54 300) and France (48 100).
Minors arriving alone resulted in over 15 500 asylum applications in 69 different countries. Most of the applicants were Afghan and Somali children.
In 2010, 197 600 of the refugees who had left their country returned home voluntarily. Over 2.9 million internally displaced persons were able to return to their homes, which is the highest number in 15 years.
In 2010, half of the internally displaced persons and 47% of refugees and asylum seekers were women and girls. 44% of refugees and 31% of asylum seekers were children under 18 years of age.
The majority of the world’s refugees were Afghan (3 million) and Iraqi (1.7 million) in 2010.