Refugees in 2017[1]
Total population
c. 25.4 million
(19.9 million under UNHCR's mandate and 5.4 million under UNRWA's mandate; the total number of forcibly displaced persons is 68.5 million)
Regions with significant populations
Sub-Saharan Africa6.236 million
Europe and North Asia6.088 million
South/East Asia and Oceania4.153 million
West Asia and North Africa2.653 million
North/South Americas484,261

A refugee, generally speaking, is a displaced person who has been forced to cross national boundaries and who cannot return home safely (for more detail see legal definition). Such a person may be called an asylum seeker until granted refugee status by the contracting state or the UNHCR[2] if they formally make a claim for asylum.[3]The lead international agency coordinating refugee protection is the United Nations Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The United Nations have a second Office for refugees, the UNRWA, which is solely responsible for supporting the large majority of Palestinian refugees.[4]

Etymology and usage

Similar terms in other languages have described an event marking migration of a specific population from a place of origin, such as the biblical account of Israelites fleeing from Assyrian conquest (circa 740 BCE)[citation needed], or the asylum found by the prophet Muhammad and his emigrant companions with helpers in Yathrib (later Medina) after they fled from persecution in Mecca.[5][6] In English, the term refugee derives from the root word refuge, from Old French refuge, meaning "hiding place". It refers to "shelter or protection from danger or distress", from Latin fugere, "to flee", and refugium, "a taking [of] refuge, place to flee back to". In Western history, the term was first applied to French Protestant Huguenots looking for a safe place against Catholic persecution after the first Edict of Fontainebleau in 1540.[7][8] The word appeared in the English language when French Huguenots fled to Britain in large numbers after the 1685 Edict of Fontainebleau (the revocation of the 1598 Edict of Nantes) in France and the 1687 Declaration of Indulgence in England and Scotland.[9] The word meant "one seeking asylum", until around 1914, when it evolved to mean "one fleeing home", applied in this instance to civilians in Flanders heading west to escape fighting in World War I.[10]