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What is a Refugee?

According to the 1951 Geneva Convention, a refugee is a person with 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 or unwilling to return to it.

Once someone flees their home country and crosses over a country border, they become a refugee. Most go to refugee camps to live and wait. The average stay in a camp is seventeen years. Some refugees may marry and have children in camps. Many refugees will settle in the country where they have fled. If conflicts are resolved, some will go home. Less than %1 will end up going to a third country to start their lives over. Those who chose to start a new life, far away from their country of origin, await an interview and approval from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Based on this step, they might have the opportunity to be received by a country that participates in the Refugee resettlement program. For those that may come to the United States, they must also await approval from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS). Only those with sufficient proof of identity, security clearances, and a well-founded fear of persecution will be allowed to go to a new country. This process usually takes about two years. 

Once approved, refugees must find a sponsor or borrow money to pay for the cost of transportation. Refugees will then fly to America. Before arrival, they will be assigned to a resettlement agency. The agencies help with their resettlement needs for the first ninety days in the United States. Since ninety days isn’t much time to get a household setup, find a job, learn English, etc. resettlement agencies also work to find sponsors to help the refugees long-term. Unfortunately, a majority of refugees are not sponsored.

Following their ninety days in the States, Friends of Refugees continues to provide long-term support and services to refugees. 


More than all of this, though, a refugee is a person with a family and a story and hope for the future.