Nine Facts About Refugees

The ongoing conflict in Syria has been on the front page of news for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the huge number of Syrian refugees who have fled their homes to find solace in Jordan, Turkey, and other neighboring countries. But what is the definition of a refugee? How many refugees are there around the world? What causes people to become refugees?

Here are 9 facts about refugees:

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 2012, it was estimated that there were 28.8 million IDPs around the world. [source]

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.

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children sitting around a table eating
A program feeding children in Germany after World War II, sponsored by LWR. Photo courtesy of the ELCA Archives

4. Almost 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]

woman and four children
A family in the refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Photo by Jonathan Ernst

5. There are currently more than 10.4 million refugees worldwide

The UNHCR estimates that, as of January 2013, there were just over 10.4 million refugees around the world. [source] This is slightly less than the year before, but does not take into account the current crisis in Syria. Which brings us to our next fact…

6. There are currently nearly 2 million Syrian refugees

The UNHCR currently has registered 1.95 million Syrian refugees, and identifies 2.1 million “persons of concern.” [source]

two paper drawings, surrounded by childrens' hands
Syrian refugee children draw pictures in the children’s activity tent at Islahiye refugee camp in Turkey. © Jodi Hilton/IRIN

7. There are over 2.5 million refugees in Southwest Asia

The conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the past decade have caused millions of people to flee their countries. But many are also beginning to return home. Over the past ten years, nearly 6 million refugees have moved back into Afghanistan. [source] However, there is still a huge concern for the safety and wellbeing of people moving in and out of this region, and humanitarian access is limited.

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]

Elaborate ring on door of Church
Sanctuary ring on a door of Notre-Dame de Paris (France). In Middle Ages, grasping this kind of ring on a church door gave the right of asylum. Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons

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, 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.

a young boy holds an LWR Quilt with two women behind him
A family displays one of their LWR Quilts inside their bamboo shelter at Mae La, the largest of nine camps that serve Burmese refugees along the Thai-Burma border.

But it doesn’t stop there. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services is a force in helping refugees from around the world get settled in the United States, with the services and support they need to thrive.

How can you help?

The easiest, most efficient way for you to help is to give an unrestricted gift to Lutheran World Relief. This gives us the flexibility to use your gift where it’s most needed.

You can also make LWR Quilts & Kits that will be shipped to people in need around the world. Or you can provide the funding needed to ship Quilts & Kits.

Learn about other ways to get involved»