Today, more than 65 million people — nearly one out of every 100 people — have been forced from their homes, often fleeing with only the items on their backs. The circumstances that cause these individuals and families to leave everything behind vary and include war, persecution, terror, gangs, natural disaster, and famine. The result is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our lifetime.
Over 22.5 million of these individuals have been formally designated as refugees, offering them some degree of international legal protection. A refugee is defined as someone who has been forced to flee their country because of persecution, war or violence. Refugees must prove a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are the leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries. Today, more than 50 percent of all refugees are children.
Refugees remain uprooted for an average of 17 years. Many find shelter in formal or informal refugee camps, where they might receive basic services but are not able to build meaningful lives. Others live underground in towns and cities, without the ability to legally work or send their children to school. A very small number of refugees are formally resettled in countries willing to take them. Historically, the United States has been a leader in refugee resettlement, welcoming over 3 million refugees from around the world since 1975. Refugees have built new lives in towns and cities across the U.S.
Yet, as the refugee crisis intensifies, new policies in the United States and Europe threaten to weaken the global refugee protection and resettlement system. The U.S., in contrast to its historical leadership role on refugees, has moved to reduce refugee admissions and put in place policies that will have a reverberating impact across the world.