French réfugié, past participle of (se) réfugier to take refuge, from Middle French refugier, from Latin refugium
A refugee is defined by the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951 as a person who (according to the formal definition in article 1A of this Convention) "owing to 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 his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country". The concept of a refugee was expanded by the Convention's 1967 Protocol and by regional conventions in Africa and Latin America to include persons who had fled war or other violence in their home country. Refugee women and children represent an additional subsection of refugees that need special attention.
Refugees were defined as a legal group in response to the large numbers of people fleeing Eastern Europe following World War II. The lead international agency coordinating refugee protection is the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which counted 8,400,000 refugees worldwide at the beginning of 2006. This was the lowest number since 1980. The major exception is the 4,600,000 Palestinian refugees under the authority of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), who are the only group to be granted refugee status to the descendants of refugees according to the above definition. The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants gives the world total as 62,000,000 refugees and estimates there are over 34,000,000 displaced by war, including internally displaced persons, who remain within the same national borders. The majority of refugees who leave their country seek asylum in countries neighboring their country of nationality. The "durable solutions" to refugee populations, as defined by UNHCR and governments, are: voluntary repatriation to the country of origin; local integration into the country of asylum; and resettlement to a third country.
As of December 31, 2005, the largest source countries of refugees are Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, Sudan, and the Palestinian Territories. The country with the largest number of IDPs is Sudan, with over 5 million. As of 2006, with 800,000 refugees and IDPs, Azerbaijan had the highest per capita IDP population in the world.