ABOUT REFUGEES

Refugees in Minnesota

Over the last three decades, more than 95,000 refugees have come to Minnesota. Refugees have been resettling in Minnesota in large numbers since the mid-1990s. Minnesota has been proud to welcome some of the largest communities of Hmong, Somali and Liberians in the United States.

Minnesota primary refugee resettlements, 1979-2012

Hmong 22,024
Somali 19,071
Vietnamese 15,065
Former Soviet Union 8,593
Ethiopian 5,644
Cambodian 4,988
Liberian 4,004
Burma 4,963
Total (includes all others) 97,423

Refugees around the world

Who is a refugee?

Under international law, a refugee is someone who is “unable or unwilling to return to and avail himself or herself of the protection of his or her home country or, if stateless, country of last habitual residence because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Often, a refugee is someone who has been forced from their home country by war, civil conflict, political strife, or gross human rights abuses. Even survivors of natural disasters are not in the same position. However great their needs may be in terms of food, shelter and health care, their governments are usually sympathetic towards them. However, natural disasters occurring in conjunction with civil strife or persecution may exacerbate a refugee situation.

How is this different from a migrant?

Refugees and migrants are fundamentally different, and for that reason are treated very differently under modern international law – even if they often travel in the same way. Migrants, especially economic migrants, choose to move in order to improve the future prospects of themselves and their families. Refugees have to move if they are to save their lives or preserve their freedom.

Who are immigrants?

People who have taken up permanent residence in a country other than their own home country are immigrants. This is slightly different from migrants who come for a variety of reasons for a certain period of time (typically no less than a year).

Who are stateless people?

Someone who is not considered as a national (a citizen) by ANY state or possibly someone who does not enjoy the fundamental rights enjoyed by other nationals in their home state. Some of these people have virtually no rights because they do not officially exist within national systems. They may have never moved from the place they were born or may have moved due to situations that qualify them as refugees.

How many refugees are there?

The latest data from 2011 estimates that there are 42.5 million people in need of international protection and assistance. Approximately 15.2 million are considered refugees and 26.4 million are internally displaced people.

Who are internally displaced persons (IDPs)?

Internally displaced persons or IDPs are forced to flee their homes just as refugees must. However, IDPs do not cross an international boundary and are displaced within their own country. IDPs face similar hardships to refugees, without the same protection under international law. Because of their unique situation, it is often very difficult for international organizations to provide assistance to IDPs.

What is asylum?

People seeking asylum say they are refugees, but that claim has yet to be evaluated. Organizations like the UNHCR decide which asylum seekers qualify for international protection as refugees. In situations involving tens or hundreds of thousands of people, individual assessment is impossible and the entire group may be granted refugee status. In the United States, asylum is a form of protection that allows individuals who are already here to remain in the U.S., provided that they meet the definition of a refugee and are not barred from either applying for or being granted asylum, and eventually to adjust their status to lawful permanent resident. Every year, thousands of people come to the United States in need of protection and those found eligible for asylum are permitted to remain in the United States.

How does resettlement happen?

A person who meets the definition of refugee may be eligible for U.S. resettlement if he or she—

  • has a particularly compelling history of persecution;
  • is a member of an ethnic or religious group that is considered by the United States to be of “special humanitarian concern” (for some groups, only those with relatives in the United States are eligible); or
  • is the spouse, unmarried child, or parent of a refugee who has been resettled or is a U.S. permanent resident or an asylee in the United States.

Both refugees and asylees can be eligible for resettlement in the U.S. but the procedure is different.

The UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) interviews those who have fled their home countries to decide whether they should be granted refugee status and thus qualify for UNHCR protection. The UNHCR sees three durable solutions to refugee situations:

  • voluntary repatriation to the home country;
  • integration into the country of asylum, or;
  • resettlement in a third country (such as the United States)

The UNHCR prefers to send refugees back to their home countries as soon as that is a safe option. If that is not possible, the second-best solution may be to integrate them into the country of asylum, where social and cultural conditions are generally similar to those of the home country. Only when these two solutions are not possible does the UNHCR consider the solution of resettlement to a third country, such as the United States.

On the other hand, the U.S. Asylum Program provides protection to qualified refugees who are already in the United States or are seeking entry into the United States at a port of entry. Asylum-seekers may apply for asylum in the United States regardless of their countries of origin. Asylum may be granted to people who are arriving in or already physically present in the United States. You may apply for asylum regardless of your immigration status, whether you are in the United States legally or illegally. An Asylum Officer or Immigration Judge will then determine if you are eligible by evaluating whether you meet the definition of a refugee.

What services do resettled refugees receive?

Cultural orientation is part of a package of mandatory core resettlement services, called Reception and Placement, or R&P, that newly arrived refugees receive. R&P services include sponsorship and pre-arrival planning; support for basic needs (housing, furniture, food, and clothing) for at least 30 days after arrival; referral to social service providers, including health care, ESL, and employment; and case management for up to 90 days. The United States policies on refugees place a large emphasis on helping these people to become productive workers and committed members of society.

Visit the National Immigration Forum for more information on services that refugees get and the difference between refugees and asylum seekers.

Snapshot of the world’s refugees

People of concern to UNHCR 42.5 million (2011)

15.2 million refugees

26.4 million internally displaced people

876,100 refugee and asylum seekers

79,784 resettled refugees

Want to learn more?