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Children play at Learning Centre in the Rohingya refugee camp.
Last updated: 24 April 2024

What is a refugee and what is a refugee crisis?

What is the definition of a refugee, and what causes a refugee crisis?

What is a refugee?

A refugee is a person fleeing war, violence, or other conflict or peril into another country because they are unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin for fear of persecution or danger.

The 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as “any person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country”.

It is estimated that there are 110 million displaced people around the world, including roughly 43.3 million refugee children. Children often bear the brunt of a refugee crisis, and by 2030, 80% of the world's poorest people will be living in places that are very dangerous for children.

Refugee crises deprive children of their homes and security and deprive parents of the means to support their children. Sadly, this leaves families in extreme poverty and leaves many child refugees vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and child marriage.

That's when they most need help. We serve alongside the most vulnerable refugees as a demonstration of God’s unconditional love for all, helping and serving every child we can.

LEARN MORE: The life of a child refugee

Because of long-standing conflicts in countries like Syria, many children may spend half their lives as refugees. Escaping the hardships from their home country is only the beginning of a dangerous journey that many refugees face. Many refugees end up living in camps where access to shelter, clean water and toilets is not always guaranteed.

Thanks to our supporters, World Vision provides a safe environment for children in areas such as the Middle East and Ukraine.

Definitions: Who exactly is a refugee, an asylum-seeker and a migrant?

A child in South Sudan eating in a shelter at a refugee camp.

What is a refugee crisis?

A refugee crisis is defined as when many displaced people move from their home country to another, in a difficult or dangerous way. The term refugee crisis can refer to displacement happening in the country of origin, the country of arrival, or to problems and dangers facing refugees whilst they are on the move. A crisis can refer to the perspective of the refugees, the country to which they flee, or, in many cases, both.

Whilst fleeing, many refugees have nothing, they do not have access to food or clean water, and many carry no possessions other than the clothes on their backs. A person can become a refugee in an instant.

According to the UNHCR, over half of all refugees and other people in need of international protection come from just three countries:

  • Syria (6.5 million)
  • Afghanistan (6.1 million)
  • Ukraine (5.9 million).

Currently across the world, there is more conflict than ever driving internal displacement and creating refugees. World Vision has been responding when disaster strikes, protectin and bringing hope to vulnerable children and families around the world.

LEARN MORE: The difference we make in emergencies

What causes a refugee crisis?

The biggest causes of a refugee crisis are:

Conflict and war are the most common cause of mass displacement of people, leading them to become refugees. In some cases, people can become refugees literally overnight when violence erupts in a country due to war or political unrest.

Large groups of people are forced to flee their homes for many reasons, not just war or conflict. Hunger, poverty, and persecution for issues such as gender or sexual orientation are other reasons which cause people to flee their countries.

In recent years, climate change has also been recognised as a major factor in global refugee crises.

In 2022, disasters triggered a record 32.6 million internal displacements, of which 98% were caused by weather-related disasters such as floods, storms, wildfires and droughts. With the global climate crisis only worsening, it is expected that the number of refugees seeking safety from natural disasters like drought, tsunamis and wildfires will continue to increase.

How can you help?

By supporting our work, you can ensure that children driven from their homes are empowered to build better futures. The pennies and pounds you donate create real change in the world for children that need it. When you donate to help a child or support our work at World Vision, you become part of our community of faithful supporters, you become part of the solution!

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