Frequently Asked Questions About Refugees

Also see our Immigration FAQ

Q: What is the difference between an immigrant and a refugee?

A: Immigrant: A foreign-born individual who voluntarily leaves his/her country of origin and has been admitted to reside permanently in the U.S. as a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR).

Refugee (Legal Definition): According to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is a person who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."

Refugee (Popular Definition): A person in flight from a desperate situation.

The key difference then, is that an immigrant chooses to leave his/her country of origin. A refugee, on the other hand, is compelled to seek asylum in another country.

Back to top

Q: How many refugees are there throughout the world?

A: According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 15.4 million refugees and people in refugee-like situations throughout the world in need of protection and assistance, including 10.55 million under the UNHCR’s care and 4.82 million registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees.

Back to top

Q: Where do most refugees come from?*

Afghanistan
3,054,709
Iraq
1,683,579
Somalia
770,154
Democratic Republic of Congo
476,693
Burma (Myanmar)
415,670
Colombia
395,577
Sudan
387,288
Vietnam
338,698
Eritrea
222,460

Note: All statistics from UNHCR’s 2010 Global Trends Report
*
Numbers are for refugees as of December 31, 2010, and people in refugee-like situations 2007-2009, and do not include persons granted permanent status in other countries.

Back to top

Q: What countries and territories host most of the world's refugees?

Host Country
# of Refugees
Pakistan
1,900,621
Syria
1,005,472
Iran
1,073,366

Note: All statistics from UNHCR 2010 Global Trends Report and include refugees and people in refugee-like situations.  These numbers do not include the some 4.8 million Palestinian refugees (2009) residing in areas of operation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Back to top

Q: What is the accepted protocol used by the international community to address the plight of refugees?

A: There are three “durable solutions” pursued. For most, returning home when conditions permit (i.e., voluntary repatriation) is the preferred solution, and in recent years large numbers have indeed repatriated. If this isn't possible, then resettlement in a country of first asylum is the next best option. When no other option is available, resettlement in another country, such as the United States, should be pursued.

Back to top

Q: How many refugees does the U.S. accept for resettlement each year?

Admissions Ceiling:
Actual Arrivals:
FY 2012: 76,000  
FY 2011: 80,000 56,424
FY 2010: 80,000 73,311
FY 2009: 80,000 74,654
FY 2008: 80,000 60,191
FY 2007: 70,000 48,281
FY 2006: 70,000 41,279
FY 2005: 70,000 53,813
FY 2004: 70,000 52,826
FY 2003: 70,000 28,422
FY 2002: 70,000 27,000
FY 2001: 80,000 68,500
FY 2000: 90,000 72,500
FY 1999: 85,317 85,006

Back to top

Q: How is the U.S. refugee admissions ceiling established?

A: The President establishes the ceilings each year in consultation with Congress and the State Department. Various organizations, including CWS/IRP, in coalition with other private resettlement agencies, are invited to present testimony supporting specific admissions levels and their rationale.

Back to top

Q: Who determines refugees' status for the purpose of admission to the United States?

A: As of March 1, 2003, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services makes this determination. Cases can be and are, in fact, presented to BCIS for its consideration.

Back to top

Q: What role does the private sector play in refugee resettlement?

A: Historically, the U.S. refugee program has been characterized as an effective model of public-private partnership. CWS/IRP is one of 10 voluntary agencies that, through private and government funding, ensures that refugees are properly resettled and adjusted to their new homes and helps them achieve early self-sufficiency by assisting them with enrolling children in school, seeking medical attention, applying for work, receiving language training, obtaining housing and basic necessities, etc. Jointly, these agencies have more than 450 affiliated resettlement offices operating throughout the country and nearly 500 years of collective organizational experience assisting refugees.

Some of the above information was taken from the USCC, Migration & Refugee Services and the Immigration Forum.

Q: Are there other groups of uprooted people?

A: Today, roughly 155 million people are displaced by armed conflict, persecution, natural disaster and large-scale development projects.  Just under one percent are recognized officially as refugees under the still-valid 1951 U.N. Convention/1967 Protocol and 1969 OAU Convention. 

A mix of interrelated factors is contributing to displacement, including economic distress; the fight for access to land, water and mineral resources, and rising sea levels, drought and other results of climate change.  One in seven people in the world lives in a slum already, with increasing numbers being pushed off their land to “misery belts” around big cities with few or no services.

Besides refugees, other groups of uprooted people today include:

Back to top

Historically, the U.S. refugee program has been characterized as an effective model of public-private partnership. CWS/IRP is one of 10 voluntary agencies that, through private and government funding, ensures that refugees are properly resettled and adjusted to their new homes and helps them achieve early self-sufficiency by assisting them with enrolling children in school, seeking medical attention, applying for work, receiving language training, obtaining housing and basic necessities, etc. Jointly, these agencies have more than 450 affiliated resettlement offices operating throughout the country and nearly 500 years of collective organizational experience assisting refugees.
 
Some of the above information was taken from the USCC, Migration & Refugee Services and the Immigration Forum.