Change Font Size:   A A A

Nov 09, 2015 | Episcopal Migration Ministries

Who is a refugee?

Who is a refugee?


“Refugee” is a legal term used to define an individual 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, is 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.”[1]



Refugee status is conferred on those whose refugee claim has been definitively evaluated by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). During situations that cause mass flight of people from conflict or violence, where it is generally evident why they fled, refugee status is conferred prima facie.



A refugee is distinct from other vulnerable migrant populations in that a refugee has crossed an international border seeking protection. When individuals are displaced by conflict and violence within the boundaries of their home country, they are known by the legal category internally displaced persons (IDP’s).



Current Refugee Crisis


In June 2015, the UNHCR reported that there are currently more than 60 million refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people worldwide – the highest level ever recorded. Of the 60 million who are displaced, half are children. In just the past 4 years, more than 4 million Syrians have been forced to flee due to the civil war in their country and this number will continue to grow as the violence continues.



The United Nations has deemed this the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.



Durable solutions


After a refugee has fled persecution in his or her native country, there are three durable solutions that will allow the refugee to rebuild his or her life in peace and dignity:


  • Voluntary repatriation to his/her home country;
  • Local integration into the country of first asylum;
  • Resettlement to a third country.


Resettlement is the third and last option for any refugee, when it is not possible for the refugee to return home or to integrate into the country which first offered asylum.



Resettlement countries


The United States is the international leader in refugee resettlement, resettling up to 70,000 refugees in fiscal year 2015. The number of refugees that will be resettled to the United States is determined annually through what is called the “presidential determination,” a determination released by the president after conferencing with Congress, administration officials, and refugee/migration experts about admissions levels.[i]



With the United States, the following nations are also considered traditional resettlement states:


  • Australia
  • Sweden
  • Norway
  • New Zealand
  • Canada
  • Finland
  • Denmark
  • The Netherlands


Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Iceland, Ireland and the United Kingdom established resettlement programs in the last decade, and more recently, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Paraguay, Portugal, Spain, Romania and Uruguay have formally announced the establishment of resettlement programs.



The United States Resettlement Program


The U.S. resettlement program, as known as the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), is an interagency effort involving many departments of the federal government, as well as domestic and international NGO’s, including faith-based organizations. It is based in a strong model of public-private partnership.



Domestically, nine resettlement or “voluntary” agencies work in this partnership with the federal government.[ii] The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, working through Episcopal Migration Ministries, is one of these agencies.[iii]



Episcopal Migration Ministries


Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) is a living example of the Church’s commitment to be a presence of hope, comfort, and welcome to refugees.



Each year, Episcopal Migration Ministries, through a network of 30 local organizations, provides a wide spectrum of services, including resettlement, employment, and intensive medical and mental health services, to more than 5,000 refugees, asylees, special immigrant visa holders, and Cuban/Haitian entrants.



These new Americans rely upon this assistance and support as they rebuild their lives in security and peace in communities across the United States. In addition to Episcopal Migration Ministries’ collaboration with local partner organizations, EMM staff members equip, support, and empower dioceses, congregations, and individuals to learn about and find their own place in the welcoming ministry of refugee resettlement.



If you, your congregation or diocese would like more information about Episcopal Migration Ministries’ work and ways you can be involved, please contact Allison Duvall, manager for church relations and engagement, at or (212) 716-6027.



Additional information, videos, and resources about the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s refugee resettlement work through Episcopal Migration Ministries may be found at A list of our resettlement partners may be found at






[i] 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention.


[ii] These nine agencies are: Church World Service (CWS), Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC), Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), International Rescue Committee (IRC), US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and World Relief Corporation (WR).

[iii] The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society is the legal and canonical name under which The Episcopal Church is incorporated, conducts business, and carries out mission.