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A Global Crisis: The plight of refugees by the numbers

We explain the plight of refugees around the world through statistics and infographics.

Need-To-Know Terms


Protection or safety given by a government to people who have been displaced from their own country.

Asylum seeker

A person who requests international protection but whose claim for refugee status has not yet been determined.


A person who is forced to flee from persecution outside of their home country.

Prima facie refugee

A person recognised as a refugee by either a state or the UNHCR, based on readily apparent circumstances in their country of origin.

1949 Geneva Convention

A set of treaties and subsequent protocols negotiated after World War II in order to establish an international standard for humanitarian treatment in war time with an aim to protect people who do not take part in the fighting – civilians, medics, aid workers – and those who can no longer fight. There are four Geneva Conventions, and the fourth affords protection to civilians, including those fleeing occupied territory. To date, the Geneva Convention has been ratified by 196 countries.

Convention Refugee

Someone who has been recognised to be a refugee, based on the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention – considered the international standard for determining refugee rights. The Convention defines a ‘refugee’ as any person who:

“…owing to 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 his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it…”

This definition does not apply to those who flee their home country due to war, civil disturbances, economic concerns, famine or natural disasters. According to the Convention, refugees flee due to the threat of persecution.

The expulsion of persons who have the right to be recognised as refugees to territories where their life or freedom are threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.


The practice of not deporting asylum seekers back to a country where they are at serious risk of persecution or torture. In Hong Kong, non-refoulement claimants are permanently considered illegal immigrants, even if their claims are accepted by the government. Their children, even those born in Hong Kong, are also considered permanently illegal. The immigration department may give some refugees permission to work on an exceptional and individual basis, but in general, they do not have the right to work.


The transfer of refugees from one country to another, where they can live, work and ultimately seek naturalisation.


When a migrant becomes a citizen of another country. In Hong Kong and Macao, this would mean applying to become a Chinese national. In addition to a long and complicated application process, applicants cannot retain their foreign nationality.

Internally displaced persons (IDPs)

Those who flee their homes but seek safety within their own country. 

Stateless person

A person who does not have a nationality. Some people are born stateless, while others become stateless due to gaps in nationality laws, emergence of new states and changes in borders.


Any person who moves temporarily or permanently within the country of their birth or to another country for any reason – be it for seasonal work, family or climate change.

Environmental migrants

Also known as climate migrants, these are people displaced from their homes due to famine, natural disasters, or progressive changes from drought, desertification and rising sea levels. This is not a type of refugee recognised by the Convention.

Economic migrant

A person who voluntarily leaves a country to seek a better life elsewhere. This is not a type of refugee recognised by the Convention.


Someone who has moved to a country other than their birthplace with the intention of permanent residence.


The extreme dislike or fear of foreigners, including their culture, customs, and religions. Often, xenophobia is driven by a perceived threat to the cultural or racial homogeneity of a certain area.

Sources:UNHCR, European Commission