Achola Josephine (35) and her children fled from war in South Sudan and now live at Palabek Refugee Settlement in northern Uganda. (Jake Lyell, for Lutheran World Relief)

9 Facts About Refugees

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of 2018 more than 70 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced. The reasons for this vary. In places like Syria and South Sudan, families have fled their homes to escape decades long civil war. In places like Venezuela, families are displaced by a crushing economic crisis. 

But what is a refugee? Who determines that? And what can we do to help families around the world who have had to leave everything behind?

Here are 9 facts about refugees.

Families applying for refugee status wait at the Peru/Ecuador border crossing in Tumbes, Peru.

Families applying for refugee status wait at the Peru/Ecuador border crossing in Tumbes, Peru. (Photo by Morgan Arnold for Lutheran World Relief)

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1. Refugees have fled persecution or war

In order to officially be considered a refugee, a person must have suffered persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, because they are part of a persecuted social group, or because they’re fleeing war. Those people who claim to be refugees, but whose cases haven’t been fully evaluated may instead be defined as “asylum seekers.”

2. Refugees have crossed an international border

There are lots of people who are forced to leave their home because of persecution or war. But not all of them are considered refugees. People who have fled their home, but stayed within their own country are considered “internally displaced,” or “internally displaced persons” (IDPs). In 2018, it was estimated that there were 38 million IDPs around the world. [source]

Picture of German Children receiving aid from LWR in 1951, taken from Together in Hope book by John Bachman.

Picture of German Children receiving aid from LWR in 1951, taken from Together in Hope book by John Bachman.

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3. Both LWR and the UNHCR began in response to World War II, with the intent of disbanding shortly after

Lutheran World Relief was founded in 1945 as a way for Lutherans in the United States to send aid and relief to their (often literal) brothers and sisters in Europe affected by the War. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was formed in 1950 to help the 40 million refugees across Europe.[source] Both organizations had the intention of closing up shop within a few years, but have continued their missions over the past sixty years as new needs have arisen.

Lakisa Olivia (8, r) and her sister, Ajara Tracy (12, l) eat nutritious sweet potatoes harvested from their mother’s garden in Palabek Refugee Settlement in northern Uganda.

Lakisa Olivia (8, r) and her sister, Ajara Tracy (12, l) eat nutritious sweet potatoes harvested from their mother’s garden in Palabek Refugee Settlement in northern Uganda. (Photo by Jake Lyell for Lutheran World Relief)

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4. More than half of all refugees are children

Many of these children may spend their entire life away from home. And these children are far more vulnerable to abuse, neglect, or other types of violence. [source]

5. There are currently 25.4 million refugees worldwide

The UNHCR estimates that, as of 2018, there were just over 25 million refugees around the world. [source] This is higher than the year before, which brings us to our next fact...

A woman and child stand outside outside the “AlWaha” center, a shelter for Syrian refugees living in Deddeh, a small town near Tripoli in Northern Lebanon.

A woman and child stand outside outside the “AlWaha” center, a shelter for Syrian refugees living in Deddeh, a small town near Tripoli in Northern Lebanon.

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6. 57% of refugees worldwide come from three countries

The UNHCR registered more than half of refugees from South Sudan (2.4 million), Afghanistan (2.6 million) and Syria (6.3 million). [source] 

7. In addition to more than 25 million refugees, there are also 40 million internally displaced people around the world. 

Internally displaced people have also been driven from their homes by war, conflict, and poverty but have not fled to another country. These men, women and children are also very vulnerable and in need of assistance. With your support, Lutheran World Relief serves internally displaced people in several countries around the world. [source]

Syrian children enjoying their Personal Care Kits and School Kits they received at at the New Orthodox School in Jordan.

Syrian children enjoying their Personal Care Kits and School Kits they received at at the New Orthodox School in Jordan.

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8. Churches have housed refugees for centuries

While the term sanctuary has its roots in sacred spaces (the Latin word sanctuarium refers to a place for holy things or holy people), the first Council of Orléans, in 511 AD, established the right of sanctuary, decreeing that people can find refuge from persecution in churches. [source]

9. Lutherans play a huge role in the lives of refugees

From prevention to solution, various Lutheran churches and organizations each play important roles in the life of refugees. LWR works in countries to end the conditions that often spiral downward, helping people living in poverty earn more income, find a voice in their community and avoid harassment or cruelty.

When people are forced to leave their home country, Lutherans are there to help. LWR and the Lutheran World Federation help Sudanese refugees at the Kakuma camp, and Somali refugees in Dadaab, both in northern Kenya. We help Karen refugees on the border of Burma and Thailand. And we are sending Quilts & Kits to provide basic needs for many of the current Syrian refugees.

...and 5 ways you can help refugees

When you reach out to refugees around the world, you show they that they are not forgotten - that they are loved. Here are 5 ways you can reach out to refugees with Lutheran World Relief and IMA World Health.

  1. Pray for refugees: Individually and as a congregation, continue to pray for refugees and displaced persons around the world, and all who are working to help them. Also, please remember that June 20 is World Refugee Day. 
  2. Make LWR Quilts & Kits: These gifts of love go to communities around the world, including to places where families have sought refuge. Not sure how to get started? Let us help!
  3. Give to Lutheran World Relief's "World of Good" Fund: this fund allows Lutheran World Relief to respond quickly and efficiently to emergencies around the world. Give a gift today.
  4. Spread the word: Share this post with your social network and let them know you care about refugees. 
  5. Stay updated: Sign up to receive updates from Lutheran World Relief by email and we'll keep you updated on all the places around the world your support is making a difference.