In reference to a recent thread on migration - which I know closed yesterday (just before I managed to finish reading all posts), I still think it necessary to briefly clarify who refugees are, as I noticed that the terms migrant, asylum seeker and refugee are often used interchangeably.

A refugee is someone 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 or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality, and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable, or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

An asylum seeker: Someone who has applied for refugee status but is still waiting for a decision on whether they meet the refugee definition.

Rejected asylum seekers: I would be cautious in labelling them all “bogus” and abusive of the asylum procedure. Some have still fled various forms of harm which some governments may argue does not amount to persecution - a term that is open to interpretation. In some countries the threshold for persecution is very high. Other asylum seekers, such as Darfurians from Sudan, are sometimes rejected because some governments (such as the UK) believe that Darfurians, although they may have suffered or fear persecution in Darfur, can return to and reside safely in Khartoum. This, despite continued reports of arbitrary arrest, discrimination and relocation of Darfurians in Sudan‘s capital city.

Most refugees would happily return home - if they could. It takes much more than benefits to integrate into a country of asylum and rebuild some sense of “normal” life.

For those interested enough to read further, the following statistics, extracted and compiled from UNHCR’s Global Trends 2008, may help clear up some myths surrounding refugees and asylum seekers:

• There were some 42 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2008. This includes 15.2 million refugees, 827,000 asylum-seekers (pending cases) and 26 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). Some of the largest numbers of IDPs are in Columbia and Iraq.

• More than 839,000 people submitted an individual application for asylum or refugee status in 2008. With one quarter of applications globally, South Africa is the largest recipient of individual applications in the world. Followed by the US (est. 49,600), France (35,400) and Sudan (35,100).

• Developing countries are host to four fifths of the world’s refugees.

• Pakistan is host to the largest number of refugees worldwide (1.8 million), followed by the Syrian Arab Republic (1.1 million) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (980,000).

• Afghan and Iraqi refugees account for almost half of all refugees under UNHCR’s responsibility worldwide. One out of four refugees in the world is from Afghanistan (2.8 million) and Afghans are located in 69 different asylum countries. Iraqis are the second largest refugee group, with 1.9 million having sought refuge mainly in neighbouring countries.

• Pakistan hosted the largest number of refugees in relation to its economic capacity. The country hosted 733 refugees per 1 USD GDP (PPP) per capita. It was followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (496 refugees per 1 USD GDP (PPP) per capita) and the United Republic of Tanzania (262). The first developed country is Germany at 26th place with 16 refugees per 1 USD GDP (PPP) per capita.

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