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Who is a refugee?

Refugees are people who are outside their country of origin because they fear of persecution. Most refugees lose everything—way of life, home and sometimes even family.

The 1951 Refugee Convention establishing UNHCR spells out that a refugee is someone who "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."

Refugees are different from economic migrants who leave their country to earn a better living. Refugees are not protected by their own country; they are forced to flee from it. Therefore, it is essential that the international community provide support and protection for refugees.

“When I was in Grade 6, I was recruited as a porter for the military. They forced me to carry rice and weapons. When I couldn’t do it because it was too heavy, I was beaten. After a week, I couldn’t take it any more, I had to escape. Soldiers often came to my village. Once I was beaten and my arms broken. They hit me in the eye with a gun and I passed out. Since then my arm is crooked and my eyesight is not normal. I tried to go back to school but I couldn’t read the exam papers so I had to give up.” -- A young man who fled from Myanmar to Mae La refugee camp in Thailand.

More information on the 1951 Refugee Convention, go to: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49da0e466.html and http://unhcr.or.th/news/general/695