According to the 1951 United Nations 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 of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country.

The concept of a refugee was expanded by the Conventions’ 1967 Protocol and by regional conventions in Africa and Latin America to include persons who had fled war or other violence in their home country. A person who is seeking to be recognized as a refugee is an asylum seeker. In the United States a recognized asylum seeker is known as an asylee.

Refugee was defined as a legal group in response to the large numbers of people fleeing Eastern Europe following World War II. The lead international agency coordinating refugee protection is the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which counted 8,400,000 refugees worldwide at the beginning of 2006. This was the lowest number since 1980. The major exception is the 4,300,000 Palestinian refugees under the authority of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), who are the only group to be granted refugee status to the descendants of refugees according to the above definition.

While some view refugees as a temporary humanitarian crisis, the more our world continues to interact, the more the migration of people, including refugees, will continue to affect the international system. We have an ethical responsibility to help those fleeing from war and conflict and promote discourse on creating practical solutions to the age-old problem.

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