Explainer: World Refugee Day

  • Image: People span the guardrail of customs at the Libyan-Egyptian border crossing of Sallum.
    Xinhua via Getty Images

    More than 40 million people across the globe have been forced to flee their homes as a result of war, famine and political instability, according to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees. Each year the U.N. honors their struggle by observing June 20 as World Refugee Day. The process for people seeking refugee or asylum status in the U.S. is explained below.

  • What does the term ‘refugee’ describe?

    Under U.S. law, the term refugee refers to a person who is located outside of the United States, is of “special humanitarian concern to the United States” and has demonstrated that they were persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion in their country of origin, according to U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services

    In order to come to the U.S. as a refugee, an individual must receive a referral to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). After being interviewed abroad, if an individual is approved as a refugee, he or she can be eligible for services to help their transition to the U.S. through the “Refugee Resettlement” program.

  • How are asylum seekers different?

    Individuals who fear harm or persecution in their home country can ask for a form of legal protection known as asylum after arriving in the U.S.

    A person applying for asylum must prove that he or she has a fear of persecution in their country of nationality that is well-founded because of their race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. To be eligible, a person must apply for asylum within one year of his or her arrival in the U.S.

  • Two paths to asylum

    In "affirmative asylum" cases, an individual is in the U.S. or has arrived at a point of entry and has declared his or her application for asylum to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services within one year of their arrival in country. A decision can be made by a USCIS asylum officer.

    In “defensive asylum” cases, an individual has requested asylum as a form of relief or defense against forcible removal from the U.S. before an immigration judge. The individual may have been undocumented or in violation of his or her status when apprehended in the U.S. or were caught trying to enter the U.S. without proper documentation and found to have a credible fear of persecution or torture.

  • How many refugees does the U.S. accept?

    A total of 73,293 people were admitted to the United States as refugees during 2010 and 21,113 individuals were granted asylum, according to the U.S. Office of Immigration Statistics

  • Where are they from?

    During 2010, the largest number of refugees came from Iraq, 18,016; followed by Burma,  16,693; and Bhutan, 12,363. Large numbers also came from Somalia, Cuba and Iran. 

  • What about asylum seekers?

    During 2010, the largest number of asylum seekers, 6,683, came from China, followed by Ethiopia, 1,093; and Haiti, 832.

  • How does U.S. policy fit into international law?

    The laws governing the status of refugees in the U.S. are in compliance with the U.N.’s 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which the U.S. adopted in 1968 and which has been adopted by 144 out of the U.N.’s 192 member states.

  • Legal permanent residents

    Legal permanent residents are persons who have been granted lawful permanent residence in the United States. They are also known as “green card” recipients, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

  • “Green card”

    Once a permanent resident has been granted the authorization to live and work in the U.S., they are given a document, a permanent resident card, to prove their status. The permanent resident card is commonly called a “green card.”

  • Naturalized citizens

    Naturalized citizens are persons aged 18 and over who become citizens of the United States. Most legal permanent residents are eligible to apply for naturalization five years after obtaining “legal permanent resident” status. Applicants for naturalization are required to pass a test on English, U.S. history and government.

    SOURCES:U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement


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