Refugees are persons fleeing for refuge or safety.
More narrowly, it refers to the special legal status of being "refugees" according to the "Refugee Convention". This means individuals who have moved from one country to another and who have then successfully claimed the right of asylum in this new country according to the 1951 international "Refugee Convention".
However, the term is very often applied more broadly, such as on individuals who have sought but yet been given refugee status ("asylum seekers"), on individuals who have not yet sought asylum but may do so in the future, and on individuals who sought but was denied asylum.
Some countries may grant asylum on more lenient grounds than on those defined in "Refugee Convention". Persons involved in such legal processes, or potentially being involved, may also be referred to as refugees.
The term is usually used in a way which implies that everyone mentioned are actually fleeing from some kind of persecution. In practice, such individuals may instead be economic migrants or even be criminal migrants who are fleeing not persecution but justice.
The "Convention relating to the Status of Refugees", also known as the "1951 Refugee Convention", is a 1951 United Nations multilateral treaty. It was amended by a 1967 Protocol.
Article 1 of the Convention, as amended by the 1967 Protocol, defines a refugee as:
- "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 or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country".
Less often mentioned aspects include:
- The convention only gives rights to an individual who has first migrated to another country. Persecuted individuals who are still in their original countries are not covered.
- The convention only gives a special legal privilege to certain privileged groups. Thus, the convention does not apply to problems arising from persecutions from ordinary criminals, from poverty, from disease, and so on.
- The convention does not give refugee status to relatives.
- The convention does not state that refugees should be given citizenship or permanent residence. A temporary residence until the threat is resolved is all that is required.
In practice the "refugees" are usually given much more than the convention requires such as citizenship and the right to bring in relatives. Many countries are also more lenient than the convention requires on which groups should be given this privileged status (but still exclude groups such as economic migrants which creates an incentive for such groups to make false claims regarding the reason for migration).
The refugee convention (and similar but more extensive legal rights created by individual countries) and its special legal privilege for certain groups has created an entire "industry".
Developed countries have in practice tried to protect themselves from "asylum seekers" by trying to prevent them from entering the developed countries. This has in turn created very large scale organized crime consisting of illegal "refugee smuggling" from less developed nations to more developed nations. Once the migrants are smuggled in they may apply for refugee status and can then not be legally expelled until this claim is legally examined and processed (which may take years). The smugglers may also provide the "refugee" with fabricated stories to tell the authorities in order to be given refugee status. If refugee status is eventually denied, the "refugee" may move on to another country and try again, possibly also changing claimed identity and story, or try to stay as an illegal alien.
False "refugees" may use a variety of methods in order to make checking their stories more difficult. Many "refugees" arrive without any identification papers. They may claim to be from countries with poor and incomplete population records meaning that their claimed identities are difficult to check. The "refugees" may be provided with stories carefully designed to conform to refugee laws and legal processes. "Refugees" may even destroy their fingerprints in order to hide that they have already applied for asylum in other countries but that this was rejected.
As "refugee" smugglers often demand substantial sums for their services, those smuggled in may either be relatively wealthy (and thus among those least needing help even if their claims are accurate) or may have agreed to later pay the smugglers with money that migrants expect to gain in their new country (and which may to some degree came from the tax payers). The smugglers often participate in different forms of organized crime (including other forms of smuggling such as of narcotics or trafficking) and such payments thus provide funds for organized crime more generally.
Another "refugee industry" consists of taking care of the asylum seekers, providing them with legal help, processing the legal claims, and so on. These expensive services are usually ultimately tax-paid (although the private sector may involved in providing them in exchange for government payments). The organizations and individuals involved in this thus have a strong interest in a high inflow of "asylum seekers" and an expensive asylum process and may lobby for measures ensuring that this should continue.
A group that is particularly difficult to return (and particularly expensive to take care of) is claimed underage children who state that they have no relatives to return to in their original country. Consequently, many "refugees" claim that they are underage without relatives. Once such persons are given citizenship they may "discover" their relatives and demand that they should be reunited.
"Refugees" migrating to developed countries almost only go to Western countries. East Asian counties, wealthy Muslim oil countries, and Israel accept very few refugees, despite often being closer to the areas from which the "refugees" allegedly originate from.
Claiming that a person is a "refugee" is only one of several methods used by the "migrant industry" in order to bring migrants to developed countries (and associated benefits for the immigrants). See the Migration article.