The refugee crisis

A global issue

The refugee crisis

A global issue

Refugees and asylum seekers

The world is now witnessing the highest levels of forced displacement since WWII. The mass exodus of 70.8 million women, men and children originate from “fragile states”, where families and communities are forced to flee violence, persecution, human rights violations, economic crises and natural disaster. There are 25.9 million refugees, with more than half of that number aged under 18.
More than two thirds of all refugees come from just five countries: Syrian Arab Republic, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. Currently, refugee statistics include 3.5 million people seeking asylum, a right protected by Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”
Statistics show that 1 in every 110 people globally is either an asylum-seeker, displaced or a refugee. We are bearing witness to a global refugee crisis.

Who are refugees and asylum seekers?

A refugee is an individual who has been forced to flee his or her country of origin due to persecution, violence or political instability. A refugee has been granted the international right of protection by having been recognised as a refugee by the United Nations, or by being granted asylum by a government. The universal definition of a refugee is contained in the 1951 Refugee Convention and offers universal coverage for those harbouring a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country for reasons of race, religion, nationality or political opinion. Protection is offered without discrimination regarding race, religion or country of origin.

What is an asylum seeker?

An asylum seeker is an individual whose request for sanctuary has yet to be processed. They are seeking international protection from conflict, violence or persecution due to their race, religion or political opinion. Every refugee is originally an asylum seeker, however not every asylum seeker will be recognised as a refugee. An asylum seeker must wait for their request for protection to be processed and refugee status to be formally conferred by the state. Each year, around one million people seek asylum. At the end of 2018 there were approximately 3.5 million people worldwide waiting for a decision on their asylum claims.

What is the difference between a refugee and asylum seeker?

There is much confusion about the difference between an asylum seeker and refugee. Often the terms are used interchangeably.

  • A refugee is someone who has crossed their country’s border, is living outside their country of origin and has been granted asylum in another country.  
  • An asylum seeker (by definition) is waiting on their claim to be processed. 

Asylum seekers are not illegal. It is not illegal to cross borders without passports or visas to seek protection from persecution. Nor are they immigrants, as immigrants leave by choice. Asylum seekers flee in fear for their lives.

Asylum seekers and refugees: facts and statistics

"What we are seeing in these figures is further confirmation of a longer-term rising trend in the number of people needing safety from war, conflict, and persecution.” – Filippo Grandi UN High Commissioner for Refugees

  • 70.8 million people around the world have been forced from their homes.  
  • Globally there are 25.9 million refugees, 41.3 million internally displaced people and 3.5 million asylum seekers.   
  • Half of all refugees are under 18 - that’s 12.95 million young refugees 
  • 30 people are displaced every minute  
  • Refugee children are five times more likely to have no access to education. 
  • The number of people who have been forced to flee their homes is the highest since WWII. 
  • Globally, the forcibly displaced population increased by 2.3 million in 2018. 

Refugees: The Global Landscape

We are in the midst of a global crisis as we bear witness to the largest forced displacement of populations in our lifetime. Harbouring broader implications for the social, economic and political landscape, record-breaking numbers of refugees are crossing international borders fleeing religious persecution, economic distress, violence, conflict and natural disaster. A collective effort by the international community is warranted – and underway.

“Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, with the same hopes and ambitions as us—except that a twist of fate has bound their lives to a global refugee crisis on an unprecedented scale.” — Khaled Hosseini, Afghan-American novelist

Faced with perilous journeys, refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people frequently face hostility and intolerance on arrival at their destination. Host communities may be overburdened by the sheer mass movement of people, as the distribution of responsibility is narrowly allocated to a small number of countries.

At the end of 2018, the five major refugee-hosting countries were:

  • Turkey: 3.5 million 
  • Uganda: 1.4 million 
  • Pakistan: 1.4 million 
  • Lebanon: 1.0 million 
  • Islamic Republic of Iran: 979,400

Syrian Refugee I Lebanon I World Vision

Shames is a 17-year-old Syrian refugee girl whose house in Syria got destroyed during the war. After a 10-day journey to Lebanon, Shames and her family arrived to Lebanon. Shames's father left her, her siblings, and her mother to make it on their own in Lebanon.

Asylum seekers in Australia

“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” - Warson Shire, Kenyan poet and teacher

Did you know that Australia is the only country in the world that enacts a policy of mandatory detention and offshore processing of asylum seekers who have arrived without a valid visa? The Australian government has obligations to asylum seekers and refugees under numerous international treaties, ensuring that their human rights are respected and protected whether they arrive with or without a visa. Those treaties include:

  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). 
  • The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). 
  • The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). 
  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). 

These rights afford the Australian asylum seeker/refugee the right not to be arbitrarily detained.

Australia as party to the Refugee Convention agreed to ensure that asylum seekers who meet the definition of refugee are not repatriated to a country where their life or liberty would be threatened. This is known as the principle of non-refoulement.

“There is a serious need for countries to keep their asylum doors wide open to those who are in genuine need of international protection.” – Antonio Guterres, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Manus Island (distance to Australia 1110km) 

As of May 2019, refugee statistics in Australia document that there are 531 refugees and asylum seekers involuntary detained on Manus Island. 

Nauru (distance to Australia 2990km) 

There are approximately 350 refugees and asylum seekers left on Nauru. 

Kids of Nauru – Canberra Rally

Kids off Nauru – Canberra Rally

Australian government refugee policy 

Having established the first Australian Department of Immigration at the end of World War Two (1945), it would not be until 1977 that a comprehensive refugee policy would be adopted. The basic principles underlying the policy still underpin Australia’s current refugee policy

  • Australia fully recognises its humanitarian commitment and responsibility to admit refugees for resettlement. 

  • The decision to accept refugees must always remain with the Government of Australia. 

  • Special assistance will often need to be provided for the movement of refugees in designated situations or for their resettlement in Australia. 

  • It may not be in the interest of some refugees to settle in Australia. Their interests may be better served by resettlement elsewhere. The Australian Government makes an annual contribution to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which is the main body associated with such resettlement. 

Australia is a signatory to the United Nation’s 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, an international policy coordinated by the UN and has committed to an Australian refugee intake of 18,750 places in 2018-2019.  

Why do asylum seekers come to Australia? 

The majority of refugees and asylum seekers apply for refuge in their immediate neighbouring countries if it is safe to do so. Many countries do not offer the legal right to work or access basic services, affecting the asylum seeker’s ability to remain safe and support their basic needs, particularly across the Asia Pacific region.  

Current asylum seeker statistics show that there are 1,312 people in immigration detention in Australia.  

Where a choice of destination country exists, asylum seekers may take into consideration the knowledge or belief that a country is democratic and that a country may protect asylum seeker human rights and the rule of law.  

How you can help refugees and asylum seekers? 

Did you know that almost 30 percent of the Australian population in 2018 were born abroad? We are an ethnically diverse country with over 300 languages spoken in Australian homes and more than 21 percent of Australians speaking a language other than English in the home.        

Embracing our multicultural heritage strengthens communities and helps to forge connections and profile practical ways in which we can help to dispel myths and misgivings about refugees and asylum seekers. There are many ways to support including:

  • Contact your local MP including the Minister for Home Affairs and the Prime Minister. Request they bring the refugees on Manus and Nauru to safety here in Australia. Their contact details can be found on the APH website.  

  • Can your workplace offer mentoring or volunteer opportunities to support migrants and refugees as they transition into the workforce? Workplace mentoring empowers and educates while creating employment pathways that offer a sustainable, experienced and skilled workforce. Contact the Australian Refugee Association for more details.  

  • Are you a teacher or community leader? Immersing ourselves firsthand into the migration experience can create understanding and empathy. This can be achieved by inviting a refugee or asylum seeker as a guest speaker to share their story. 

  • For refugee students, losing the chance to pursue their studies can be devastating. Encourage your school or university to offer a scholarship or donate fees, uniforms, books and tuition. 

  • As Australia’s national peak body, the Refugee Council of Australia is a point of reference for people seeking asylum and all those who support and work with them. Visit their website to stay informed.


Children at School World Vision Rwanda’s Kisaro Area Programme

Children engaged in learning at Kigogo Primary in Rwanda. In partnership with Rwanda’s water and sanitation corporation (WASAC), World Vision built a 6.8 kilometre pipeline that benefits nearly 6,000 people across 14 villages, including 481 registered or sponsored children.

How World Vision is helping refugees and asylum seekers 

As Australia’s largest international NGO, we are focused on responding to the needs of thousands of refugees and displaced people across the globe. Our staff respond to communities forced to flee from natural disaster, economic crises, conflict and social upheaval. World Vision is on the ground responding to the urgent needs of people facing desperate conditions in the world’s most impacted zones. These include: 

  • Syria 
  • Lebanon 
  • Jordan 
  • Turkey 
  • Iraq 
  • Bangladesh 
  • East Africa 
  • Democratic Republic of Congo 
  • Natural emergency zones 

More than 67 percent of refugees worldwide come from Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia, with the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar Bangladesh. Through international partnerships with organisations such as the World Food Programme we are active in all of these areas, tailoring response which may include: 

  • Providing essential shelter provisions. 
  • Helping people access food, clean water, sanitation and hygiene services. 
  • Building learning centres and child-friendly spaces. 
  • Supporting fractured health systems, hospitals, maternal services, health centres and mobile clinics. 
  • Implementing programs addressing children’s social interactions, family bonds and psychosocial wellbeing. 
  • Providing safe spaces for children to learn, play and receive other forms of support. 

The World Vision emergency response features two main types of emergency, rapid-onset disasters (earthquakes, cyclones, floods and tsunamis) and slow-onset disasters (droughts, famine, conflict and war) often in coordination with other international first responders like the UNHCR. We provide life-saving assistance in times of global crises and natural disaster including Cyclone Idai, and the earthquakes and tsunamis of Lombok, Central Sulawesi Province and the Sundra Strait.  

40 Hour Famine Backpack Challenge supporting young refugees 

Each year thousands of young Australians unite to stand with young refugees by raising money and awareness through the 40 Hour Famine. The Backpack Challenges sees young people live with only what they can fit into their backpack for 40 hours, giving them an understanding of what it might be like to be forced to flee your home with nothing but the essentials.  

Money raised supports refugees around the world with things like access to clean water and health care, food and nutrition support and education opportunities.  

Find out more at

Rohingya Refugee Crisis: Minara beats malnutrition 

“When I arrived in Bangladesh, she was about to die. I thought, ‘Oh my god, am I going to lose my baby?” – Jaheda Begum mother to two-year-old Minara.  

As violence erupted in Myanmar, heavily pregnant Jaheda and her family were among 700,000 Rohingya refugees to flee into neighbouring Bangladesh. Jaheda gave birth to Minara as they escaped the conflict. With little food for herself, Jaheda struggled to breastfeed her baby.  

Minara was diagnosed with moderate acute malnutrition at the World Vision malnutrition prevention and treatment centre and given Plumpy’Sup, a ready to use, high-energy food developed to complement breastfeeding. She began to flourish. World Vision in partnership with the UN World Food Programme supplies all 13,000 children under five in the three refugee camps with monthly rations of Super Cereal.   

 “She had moderate acute malnutrition. Now she’s cured.” – Mainuddin, World Vision nutrition team leader.   

Children I Malnutrition I Refugee I Cox's Bazaar I Bangladesh

Minara, 19 months, eats Plumpy’Sup at the World Vision-operated nutrition centre in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, home to nearly one million people who fled from Myanmar.

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