Who are the peoples displaced from their homelands?

At our May meeting we talked about peoples who are displaced and how are they identified?  Often, we confuse their status.  The United Nations uses five categories for identifying people who are displaced.  Each category comes with a different system for seeking a new home.  In the US we most often hear about asylum seekers and refugees. 

Both refugees and asylees are defined as persons outside of his or her country of nationality who are unable or unwilling to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinions.  But how each group gets to the US is very different. 

Who are the peoples who are displaced and how are they identified?

Refugees

A refugee is someone who fled his or her home and country owing to “a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”, according to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention.  Their claim to refugee status is extensively evaluated in the country to which they fled, often in a refugee camp.  Many refugees are in exile to escape the effects of natural or human-made disasters.

Asylum Seekers

Asylum seekers say they are refugees and have fled their homes as refugees do, but their claim to refugee status is not yet definitively evaluated in the country to which they fled.

Internally Displaced Persons

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are people who have not crossed an international border but have moved to a different region than the one they call home within their own country.

Stateless Persons

Stateless persons do not have a recognized nationality and do not belong to any country.  Statelessness situations are usually caused by discrimination against certain groups.

Returnees

Returnees are former refugees who return to their own countries or regions of origin after time in exile.

What is the difference between refugee and asylum status? The key distinction lies with where individuals apply for humanitarian aid from the U.S. government. 

Asylum status is a protection granted to foreign nationals already located in the United States or at a U.S. port of entry and who meet the international definition of a refugee. You do not have to have legal immigration status to apply for asylum status.

Refugee status applies to persons who meet the international definition of a refugee and who are located outside of the United States as well as outside their native country.

To apply for refugee relief, you must apply with an agency like a U.S. embassy or a nonprofit representing the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) located outside of the United States. 

Can Central Americans be refugees?  The legal answer is no. In Central America there is no venue to apply for refugee status. The UNHCR has not set up an office to accommodate refugee applications. As a result, those from Central America who have nowhere to go formally apply for refugee status in order to flee situations of violence and persecution. In order to seek protection from the United States they have to physically come to our country and apply for our domestic asylum program.

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