Refugee

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For the description of "refugee" as casually used for any person who has been forced to leave their home, see displaced person. For other uses, see refugee (disambiguation).

A refugee is a person seeking asylum in a foreign country in order to escape persecution, war, terrorism, extreme poverty, famines, and natural disaster. Some regional legal instruments further include those seeking to escape generalized violence in the definition of a refugee. Those who seek refugee status are sometimes known as asylum seekers and the practice of accepting such refugees is that of offering political asylum. The most common asylum claims to industrialized countries are based upon political and religious grounds. According to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is a 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 his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.

The concept of a refugee was expanded by the Conventions's 1967 Protocol and by regional conventions in Africa and Latin America to include persons who had fled war or other violence in their home country. A person who is seeking to be recognized as a refugee is an asylum seeker or asylee.

Refugee was defined as a legal group in response to the large numbers of people fleeing Eastern Europe following World War II. The lead international agency coordinating refugee protection is the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which counted 8.4 million refugees worldwide at the beginning of 2006. This was the lowest number since 1980.<ref name=numbers>Refugees by Numbers 2006 edition, UNHCR</ref> The major exception are the 4.3 million Palestinian refugees under the authority of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), who main a slightly different definition.<ref>Publications/Statistics, UNRWA, update as of 31 March 2006</ref> The majority of refugees seek asylum in countries neighboring their country of nationality. The "durable solutions" to refugee populations, as defined by UNHCR and governments, are: voluntary repatriation to the country of origin; local integration into the country of asylum; and resettlement to a third country.<ref>Framework for Durable Solutions for Refugees and Other Persons of Concern, UNHCR Core Group on Durable Solutions, May 2003, p. 5</ref>

Image:Evstafiev-travnik-refugees.jpg
Refugees arrive in Travnik, central Bosnia, during the war, 1993. Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev

Contents

[edit] History

[edit] Refugees prior World War II

See also: right of asylum and sanctuary
Image:Ajax Raping Cassandra.jpg
Ajax violated the sanctuary of the Greek goddess Athena to rape Cassandra and was killed as divine punishment: red-figure vase, c. 370-360 BCE

The concept of sanctuary, in the meaning that a person who fled into a holy place could not be harmed without inviting divine retribution, was understood by the ancient Greeks and ancient Egyptians. However, the right to seek asylum in a church or other holy place, was first codified in law by King Ethelbert of Kent in about 600 A.D. Similar laws were implemented throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. The related concept of political exile also has a long history: Ovid was sent to Tomis and Voltaire was exiled to England. Through the 1648 Peace of Westphalia the modern state began to take shape as the combatants of the Thirty Years' War recognized each others' sovereignty. However, it was not until the advent of romantic nationalism in late eighteenth century Europe that nationalism became prevalent enough that the phrase "country of nationality" became meaningful and people crossing borders were required to provide identification.

The term "refugee" is sometimes applied to persons who who may have fit the definition, if the 1951 Convention was applied retroactively. There are many candidates. For example, after the Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685 outlawed Protestantism in France, hundreds of thousands of Huguenots fled to England, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark and Prussia. Various groups of people were officially designated refugees beginning in World War I.

The first international coordination on refugee affairs was by the League of Nations' High Commission for Refugees. The Commmission, led by Fridtjof Nansen, was set up in 1921 to assist the approximately 1,500,000 persons who fled the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent civil war (1917–1921), most of them aristocrats fleeing the Communist government. In 1923, the mandate of the Commission was expanded to include the more than 1,000,000 Armenians who left Turkish Asia Minor in 1915 and 1923 due to a series of events now known as the Armenian Genocide. Over the next several years, the mandate was expanded to include Assyrians and Turkish refugees.<ref name=nobel>[http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1938/nansen-history.html Nansen International Office for Refugee: The Nobel Peace Prize 1938], nobelprize.org</ref> In all of these cases, a refugee was defined as a person in a group for which the League of Nations had approved a mandate, as opposed to a person to whom a general definition applied.

In 1930, the Nansen International Office for Refugees was established as a successor agency to the Commission. Its most notable achievement was the Nansen passport, a passport for refugees, for which it was awarded the 1938 Nobel Peace Prize. The Nansen Office was plagued by inadequate funding, rising numbers of refugees and the refusal by League members to let the Office assist their own citizens. Regardless, it managed to convince fourteen nations to sign the Refugee Convention of 1933, a weak human right instrument, and assist over one million refugees. The rise of Nazism led to such a severe rise in refugees from Germany that in 1933 the League created a High Commission for Refugees Coming from Germany. The mandate of this High Commission was subsequently expanded to include persons from Austria and Sudetenland. On 31 December 1938, both the Nansen Office and High Commission were dissolved and replaced by the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees under the Protection of the League.</ref name=nobel> This coincided with the flight of several hundred thousand Spanish Republicans to France after their loss to the Nationalists in 1939 in the Spanish Civil War.

[edit] World War II and UNHCR

Image:Reffugees2.jpg
Polish civilians fleeing eastwards during the German invasion of Poland in 1939

The conflict and political instability during World War II led to massive amounts of forced migration. In 1943, the Allies created the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) to provide aid to areas liberated from Axis powers, including parts of Europe and China. This included returning over seven million refugees, then commonly referred to as displaced persons or DPs, to their country of origin and setting up displaced persons camps for one million refugees who refused to be repatriated. At the time, UNRRA was shut down in 1949 and its refugee tasks given to the International Refugee Organization (IRO).<ref>[http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/history/A0850078.html "United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration", The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, © 1994, 2000-2005, on Infoplease., © 2000–2006 Pearson Education, publishing as Infoplease. (accessed 13 October 2006)</ref>

After the defeat of Germany in World War II, the Potsdam Conference authorized the expulsion of German minorities from a number of European countries (including Soviet- and Polish-annexed pre-war east Germany), meaning that 12,000,000 ethnic Germans were displaced to the reallocated and divided territory of Allied-occupied Germany. Between the end of World War II and the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, more than 3,700,000 refugees from East Germany travelled to West Germany for asylum from the Soviet occupation.

The International Refugee Organization was a temporary organization of the United Nations (UN), which itself had been founded in 1945, with a mandate to largely finish the UNRRA's work of repatriating or resettling European refugees. It was dissovled in 1952 after resettling about one million refugees.<ref>"International Refugee Organization %u2014 Infoplease.com." The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, © 1994, 2000-2005, on Infoplease., © 2000–2006 Pearson Education, publishing as Infoplease. (accessed 13 October 2006)</ref> The definition of a refugee at this time was an individual with either a Nansen passport or a “Certificate of Eligibility” issued by the International Refugee Organization.

[edit] UNHCR

Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (established December 14, 1950) protects and supports refugees at the request of a government or the United Nations and assists in their return or resettlement. It succeeded the earlier International Refugee Organization and the even earlier United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (which itself succeeded the League of Nations' Commissions for Refugees).

UNHCR was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1954 and 1981. The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country.

Many celebrities are associated with the agency including Angelina Jolie.

UNHCR's mandate has gradually been expanded to include protecting and providing humanitarian assistance to what it describes as other persons "of concern", including internally-displaced persons (IDPs) who would fit the legal definition of a refugee under the 1767 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol, the 1969 Organization for African Unity Convention, or some other treaty if they left their country, but who presently remain in their country of origin. UNHCR thus has missions in Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Serbia and Montenegro and Côte d'Ivoire to assist and provide services to IDPs.

[edit] Asylum seekers

Image:ElCarpio.jpg
Power lines leading to a trash dump hover just overhead in El Carpio, a Nicaraguan refugee camp in Costa Rica

Refugees are a subgroup of the broader category of displaced persons. Environmental refugees (people displaced because of environmental problems such as drought) are not included in the definition of "refugee" under international law, as well as internally displaced people. According to international refugee law, a refugee is someone who seeks refuge in a foreign country because of war and violence, or out of fear of persecution "on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group" (to use the terminology from U.S. law).

The practical determination of whether a person is a refugee or not is most often left to certain government agencies within the host country. This can lead to abuse in a country with a very restrictive official immigration policy; for example, that the country will neither recognize the refugee status of the asylum seekers nor see them as legitimate migrants and treat them as legal aliens.

On the other hand, fraudulent requests in an environment of lax enforcement could lead to improper classification as refugee, resulting in the diversion of resources from those with a genuine need. The percentage of asylum/refugee seekers who do not meet the international standards of special-needs refugee, and for whom resettlement is deemed proper, varies from country to country. Failed asylum applicants are most often deported, sometimes after imprisonment or detention, as in the United Kingdom.

A claim for asylum may also be made onshore, usually after making an unauthorised arrival. Some governments are relatively tolerant and accepting of onshore asylum claims; other governments will not only refuse such claims, but may actually arrest or detain those who attempt to seek asylum. A small number of governments, such as that of Australia, have a policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers.

Globally, about 17 countries (Australia, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States [1]) regularly accept quota refugees from places such as refugee camps. Usually these are people who have escaped war. In recent years, most quota refugees have come from Iran and Iraq, which have been in various wars and revolutions, and the former Yugoslavia, due to the Yugoslav wars.

[edit] Refugee law

Main article: Refugee law

Under international law, refugees are individuals who:

Refugee law encompasses both customary law, peremptory norms, and international legal instruments. These include:

[edit] Refugee camps

Main article: Refugee camps

A refugee camp is a camp built up by governments or NGOs (such as the ICRC) to receive refugees.

[edit] Boat people

Main article: Boat people

The term "boat people" came into common use in the 1970s with the mass exodus of Vietnamese refugees following the Vietnam War. It is a widely used form of migration for people migrating from Cuba, Haiti, Morocco, Vietnam or Albania. They often risk their lives on dangerously crude and overcrowded boats to escape oppression or poverty in their home nations. Events resulting from the Vietnam War led many people in Cambodia, Laos, and especially Vietnam to become refugees in the late 1970s and 1980s. In 2001, 353 asylum seekers sailing from Indonesia to Australia drowned when their vessel sank.

The main danger to a boat person is that the 'boat' he or she is sailing in may actually be anything that floats and is large enough for passengers. Although such makeshift craft can result in tragedy, in 2003 a group of Cuban refugees attempted (unsuccessfully, but safely) to reach Florida in a 1950s pickup truck made buoyant by oil barrels strapped to its sides.

Boat people are frequently a source of controversy in the nation they seek to immigrate to, such as the United States, Canada, Italy, Spain and Australia. Boat people are often forcibly prevented from landing at their destination, such as under Australia's Pacific Solution, or they are subjected to mandatory detention after their arrival.

[edit] Historical refugee crises

[edit] Refugee movement in Europe and the Middle East

Image:Serb refugees.jpg
Serb refugees from Croatia after Operation Storm in 1995.

Beginning in 1991, political upheavals in the Balkans such as the breakup of Yugoslavia, displaced about 2,000,000 people by mid-1992.

[edit] The foundation of Israel and Palestinian refugees

For more details on this topic, see Palestinian refugees.

The Nazi persecution culminated in the Holocaust of European Jews. The Bermuda Conference, Evian Conference and other attempts failed to resolve the problem of Jewish refugees, a fact widely used in Nazi propaganda. Jewish immigration to Palestine had taken place between the two world wars, while the territories were under British mandate received from the League of Nations (created in 1919). Following the 1948 proclamation of the State of Israel, the first Arab-Israeli War began. Many Palestinians had already became refugees, and the Palestinian Exodus (Nakba) continued through the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and after the armistice that ended it. The great majority have remained refugees for generations as they were not permitted to return to their homes or to settle in the Arab countries where they lived. The refugee situation and the presence of numerous refugee camps continues to be a point of contention in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The final estimate of refugee numbers was 711,000 according to the United Nations Concilation Commission. Palestinian refugees from 1948 and their descendants do not come under the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, but under the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which created its own criteria for refugee classification. As such they are the only refugee population legally defined to include descendants of refugees, as well as others who might otherwise be considered internally displaced persons.

[edit] Jewish refugees from Arab lands

For more details on this topic, see Jewish exodus from Arab lands.

Jews have lived in what are now Arab states at least since the Babylonian captivity (597 BCE), about 2,600 years ago.

After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Palestinian exodus, the creation of the state of Israel, and the independence of Arab countries from European control, conditions for Jews in the Arab world deteriorated. Over the next few decades, most would leave the Arab world.

In 1945 there were between 758,000 and 866,000 Jews living in communities throughout the Arab world. Today, there are fewer than 7,000. In some Arab states, such as Libya (which was once around 3 % Jewish), the Jewish community no longer exists; in other Arab countries, only a few hundred Jews remain.

[edit] Refugee movements in Asia

Since World War II, Asia and the Middle East have been a large source of refugees.

  • The Korean War (1950–53) and the Chinese take-over of Tibet (1959) both caused the displacement of more than 1 million refugees.
  • The partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947 resulted in the largest human movement in history: an exchange of 18,000,000 Hindus and Sikhs (from Pakistan) for Muslims (from India). During the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, owing to the West Pakistani Army's Operation Searchlight, more than 10 million Bengalis fled to neighbouring India.
  • Large numbers of Vietnamese refugees came into existence after 1975 when South Vietnam fell to the communist forces. Many tried to escape, some by boat, thus giving rise to the phrase "boat people". The Vietnamese refugees emigrated to Hong Kong, France, the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries, creating sizable expatriate communities, notably in the United States.
  • During the end of Chinese Civil War and Great Leap Forward 1000s of Chinese escaped to Hong Kong in 1960s.
  • The Mien or Yao recently lived in northern Vietnam, northern Laos and northern Thailand. In 1975, the Pathet Lao forces began seeking reprisal for the involvement of many Mien as soldiers in the CIA-sponsored Secret War in Laos. As a token of appreciation to the Mien and Hmong people who served in the CIA secret army, the United States accepted many of the refugees as naturalized citizens (Mien American). Many more Hmong continue to seek asylum in neighboring Thailand. [2]
  • Due to the persecution of the ethnic Karen population in Burma (Myanmar) significant numbers of refugees live along the Thai border in camps of up to 50,000 people.
  • During the 1980s and early 1990s, the Afghan War (1978–92) caused more than 6,000,000 refugees to flee to the neighbouring countries of Pakistan and Iran, making Afghanistan the country with the greatest number of refugees. Iran also provided asylum for 1,400,000 Iraqi refugees who had been uprooted as a result of the Persian Gulf War (1990–91).

[edit] Bengali Refugees in India in 1971

As a result of the Bangladesh Liberation War, on 27 March 1971, Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, expressed full support of her Government to the Bangladeshi struggle for freedom. The Bangladesh-India border was opened to allow the tortured and panic-stricken Bengalis safe shelter in India. The governments of West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura established refugee camps along the border. Exiled Bangladeshi army officers and voluntary workers from India immediately started using these camps for recruitment and training of freedom fighters (members of Mukti Bahini).

As the massacres in East Pakistan escalated, an estimated 10 million refugees fled to India, causing financial hardship and instability therein.

[edit] Indochinese boat people

Following the communist takeovers in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in 1975, about three million people attempted to escape in the subsequent decades. With massive influx of refugees daily, the resources of the receiving countries were severely strained. The plight of the boat people became an international humanitarian crisis. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) set up refugee camps in neighboring countries to process the boat people. The budget of the UNHCR increased from $80 million in 1975 to $500 million in 1980. Partly for its work in Indochina, the UNHCR was awarded the 1981 Nobel Peace Prize.

[edit] Refugee movements in Africa

Since the 1950s, many nations in Africa have suffered civil wars and ethnic strife, thus generating a massive number of refugees of many different nationalities and ethnic groups. The division of Africa into European colonies in 1885, along which lines the newly independent nations of the 1950s and 1960s drew their borders, has been cited as a major reason why Africa has been so plagued with intrastate warfare. The number of refugees in Africa increased from 860,000 in 1968 to 6,775,000 by 1992 (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2004). By the end of 2004, that number had dropped to 2,748,400 refugees, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees [3]. (That figure does not include internally displaced persons, who do not cross international borders and so do not fit the official definition of refugee.)

Many refugees in Africa cross into neighboring countries to find safe haven; often, African countries are simultaneously countries of origin for refugees and countries of asylum for other refugees. The Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, was the country of origin for 462,203 refugees at the end of 2004, but a country of asylum for 199,323 other refugees.

Countries in Africa from where 5,000 or more refugees originated as of the end of 2004, arranged in descending order of numbers of refugees are below. (UNHCR, 2004 Global Refugee Trends, Table 3.) The largest number of refugees are from Sudan and have fled either the longstanding and recently concluded Sudanese Civil War or the Darfur conflict and are located mainly in Chad, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya.

[edit] Great Lakes refugee crisis

In the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, over two million people fled into neighboring countries, in particular Zaire. The refugee camps soon came to be controlled by the former government and Hutu militants who used the camps as bases to launch attacks against the new government in Rwanda. Little action was taken to resolve the situation and the crisis did not end until Rwanda-supported rebels forced the refugees back across the border in the beginning of the First Congo War.

[edit] Refugee movements in the Americas

See also: Mariel boatlift

From 1991 through 1994, following the military coup d'état against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, thousands of Haitians fled violence and repression by boat. Although most were repatriated to Haiti by the U.S. government, others entered the United States as refugees. Haitians were primarily regarded as economic migrants from the grinding poverty of Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

The victory of the forces led by Fidel Castro in the Cuban Revolution led to a large exodus of Cubans between 1959 and 1980. Dozens of Cubans yearly continue to risk the waters of the Straits of Florida seeking better economic and political conditions in the U.S. In 1999 the highly publicized case of six year old Elián González brought the covert migration to international attention. Measures by both governments have attempted to address the issue, the U.S. instituted a Wet feet, dry feet policy allowing refuge to those travelers who manage to complete their journey, and the Cuban government have periodically allowed for mass migration by organizing leaving posts. The most famous of these agreed migrations was the Mariel boatlift of 1980.

[edit] Common Refugee Medical problems

Apart from physical wounds or starvation, a large percentage of refugees develops symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. These long-term mental problems can severely impede the functionality of the person in everyday situations; it makes matters even worse for displaced persons who are confronted with a new environment and challenging situations. They are also at high risk for suicide[4].

Among other symptoms, post-traumatic stress disorder involves anxiety, over-alertness, sleeplessness, chronic fatigue syndrome, motoric difficulties, failing short term memory, amnesia, nightmares and sleep-paralysis. Flashbacks are characteristic to the disorder: The patient experiences the traumatic event, or pieces of it, again and again. Depression is also characteristic for PTSD-patients and may also occur without accompanying PTSD.

PTSD was diagnosed in 34.1% of the Palestinian children, most of whom were refugees, males, and working. The participants were 1,000 children aged 12 to 16 years from governmental, private, and United Nations Relief Work Agency UNRWA schools in East Jerusalem and various governorates in the West Bank.<ref>Khamis, V. Post-traumatic stress disorder among school age Palestinian children. Child Abuse Negl. 2005 Jan;29(1):81-95.
</ref>

Another study showed that 28.3% of Bosnian refugee women had symptoms of PTSD three or four years after their arrival in Sweden. These women also had significantly higher risks of symptoms of depression, anxiety, and psychological distress than Swedish-born women. For depression the odds ratio was 9.50 among Bosnian women.<ref>Sundquist K, Johansson LM, DeMarinis V, Johansson SE, Sundquist J. Posttraumatic stress disorder and psychiatric co-morbidity: symptoms in a random sample of female Bosnian refugees. Eur Psychiatry. 2005 Mar;20(2):158-64.
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A study by the Department of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine demonstrated that twenty percent of Sudanese refugee minors living in the United States had a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. They were also more likely to have worse scores on all the Child Health Questionnaire subscales. <ref>Geltman PL, Grant-Knight W, Mehta SD, Lloyd-Travaglini C, Lustig S, Landgraf JM, Wise PH. The "lost boys of Sudan": functional and behavioral health of unaccompanied refugee minors re-settled in the United States. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2005 Jun;159(6):585-91.
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Many more studies illustrate the problem. One meta-study was conducted by the psychiatry department of Oxford University at Warneford Hospital in the United Kingdom. 20 surveys were analyzed, providing results for 6,743 adult refugees from seven countries. In the larger studies, 9% were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and 5% with major depression, with evidence of much psychiatric comorbidity. Five surveys of 260 refugee children from three countries yielded a prevalence of 11% for post-traumatic stress disorder. According to this study, refugees resettled in Western countries could be about ten times more likely to have PTSD than age-matched general populations in those countries. Worldwide, tens of thousands of refugees and former refugees resettled in Western countries probably have post-traumatic stress disorder. <ref>Fazel M, Wheeler J, Danesh J. Prevalence of serious mental disorder in 7000 refugees resettled in western countries: a systematic review. Lancet. 2005 Apr 9-15;365(9467):1309-14.
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[edit] World Refugee Day

World Refugee Day occurs on June 20. The day was created in 2000 by a special United Nations General Assembly Resolution. June 20 had previously been commemorated as African Refugee Day in a number of African countries.

In the United Kingdom World Refugee Day is celebrated as part of Refugee Week. Refugee Week is a nationwide festival designed to promote understanding and to celebrate the cultural contibutions of refugees, and features many events such as music, dance and theatre.

[edit] Notes

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[edit] See also

Look up Refugee in
Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

[edit] References

  • Michael Robert Marrus, The Unwanted: European refugees in the 20th century, Oxford University Press 1985
  • Mark Bixler, "The Lost Boys of Sudan: An American Story of the Refugee Experience", University of Georgia Press 2005 - good resources with many links
  • Matthew J. Gibney, "The Ethics and Politics of Asylum: Liberal Democracy and the Response to Refugees", Cambridge University Press 2004
  • Aristide R. Zolberg et al.,"Escape from Violence", Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Refugee number statistics taken from 'Refugee', Encyclopaedia Britannica CD Edition 2004.

[edit] External links

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