Who is a Refugee? 8 Things You Should Know about the Refugee Crisis

Image credit: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times.

“Imagine living in a refugee camp where you are too scared to go the toilet, or being subjected to sexual harassment on a daily basis in your host community because of your gender or identity. This is the terrifying reality for hundreds of thousands of women and girls and LGBTI refugees around the world, and the shameful inaction of wealthy governments is prolonging it.”

These are the words of Catherine Murphy, Acting Director of the Gender, Sexuality and Identity Programme at Amnesty International. In the run up to Refugee Week—19-25 June—, at The Circle we will try to address some of the misconceptions surrounding the refugee crisis, in particular trying to put a spotlight on the challenges and dangers faced by women and girls when leaving their home countries.

1. Who is a refugee?

According to UNHCR, a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee their country due to fear of violence or persecution. They most likely cannot return home because of war, or ethnic, tribal or religious violence or persecution. Refugee status entitles someone to legal protection and material assistance. States are required to protect refugees and not send them to countries where they risk violence or persecution.

2. Who is an asylum seeker?

An asylum seeker is someone in the process of applying to be recognised as a refugee.

3. Is it easy to claim asylum?

The short answer is no.

Claiming asylum can be a complex process that can take many months. Asylum seekers have to prove to their potential host state that going back to their home country would put them at risk of persecution “for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. And even then, many applications aren’t successful—in 2015, 64% of initial asylum applications were refused in the UK.

Around 50% of asylum seekers are detained in Immigration Removal Centres while they await the decision on their refugee application.

4. Who is an economic migrant?

Someone who moves to another country driven by poor working or living conditions in their country of origin.

5. What is the refugee crisis?

In the past two years, Europe has experienced the largest movement of people since the Second World War. Around 1.3 million people claimed asylum in the EU in 2015 and a further 1.3 million in 2016, but the number of people who have been granted refugee status is much lower – approximately 292,000 in 2015 and 366,000 in 2016 (although the process of applying for asylum is long and those granted asylum may have applied in previous years).

Most asylum seekers have fled war and violence in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, but many others come from Kosovo, Albania, Pakistan and Eritrea.

6. Is the refugee crisis over? Why isn’t it in the media as much as it used to be?

It would indeed seem the refugee crisis is slipping out of mainstream consciousness. Although the number of refugees entering Europe peaked in 2015 (at 1.5 million), and the number of refugees arriving continues to decrease, over 70,000 people have entered Europe via the Mediterranean so far in 2017.

In addition to this, a number of interesting conclusions were drawn at a UNESCO conference on media and migration, which could help to explain the treatment of the crisis by the media. Firstly, journalists often misuse terms such as refugee and migrant. Some also fail to synthesise political rhetoric, leading to misleading and untrue stories, and there is failure to contextualise stories within the context of the refugee crisis.

According to Dr. Guita Hourani, Director of the Lebanese Emigration Research Centre at Notre Dame University, this comes down to a lack of training. Experts at the UNESCO conference agreed that newsrooms lack the means and support to be able to cover the crisis appropriately.

7. The situation in 2017

As of 30 May 2017, in the EU there have been:

• 124,000 applications for asylum
• 70,877 arrivals by Mediterranean sea (of which 11% are women; 16.5% are children)
• 1,729 dead and missing in the Mediterranean

8. Some of the issues that women migrants and refugees face

Most refugees worldwide are hosted by developing countries; nearly 500,000 people currently live in refugee camps across Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon—camps which can be highly dangerous for women. They often face sexual assault and violence when collecting firewood for cooking and when walking through poorly lit camps to use the toilet at night.

In addition to that, women do not have access to clinics they need in order to ensure their sexual health and their health during pregnancy. 15% of women fleeing conflict while pregnant are likely to face a life-threatening obstetric complication, with aid rarely to be found.

We’d like to hear about women-led projects helping refugees and of course stories from women refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. If you’d like to share your story with us, email us at hello@thecircle.ngo.

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