Who is a refugee?

A refugee, as defined by Section 101(a)42 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) based on the United Nations 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocols relating to the Status of Refugees, is a person who is  unable or unwilling  to return to their home country because of a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin.”

What does that mean in simple terms?  A refugee is a person who has been forced to leave his or her home country.

What is the Refugee Resettlement Process?

Along with the definition of a refugee, it’s helpful to define a few more terms when explaining the refugee resettlement process.

Internally Displaced Person

A person who has left her or his home in fear of persecution, but has not crossed an international border.

Asylum Seeker

 A person who has fled from his or her country and is seeking refugee status in another country.


When an asylum seeker or refugee is forcibly returned to the country from which they have fled.


When a person returns to his or her home country voluntarily. If they are forced to go against their will, this is know as “forced repatriation” and is the same as refoulement of deportation.

Economic Migrant

Someone who has left her or his home to look for better work and a higher standard of living in another place.


someone who has entered a new country to settle.

In 1951, The UNHCR  (United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees) was established to help approximately one million people who were uprooted during WWII.  Refugee protection and assistance organizations generally promote three “durable solutions” to the fate of refugees:

  • Voluntary repatriation: refugees are able to return to their home country because their lives and liberty are no longer threatened.
  • Local integration: host governments allow refugees to integrate into the country of first asylum.
  • Resettlement in a third country: repatriation is unsafe and the first-asylum country refuses local integration.

A refugee is brought to their designated country having been awarded legal refugee status by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The UNHCR office in the country of asylum (usually a neighboring country) decides and grants eligibility for refugee status based upon impending threat in the home country.  A refugee awarded legal status has proved that they cannot return home for fear of their life or persecution. Once approved for resettlement, the UNHCR refers the refugee to the government of one of nine countries who participate in refugee resettlement globally.