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Refugees arrive on the Greek island of Lesvos, June 2015. © Michael S Honegger

Who are refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers?

The terms “refugee”, “asylum-seeker” and “migrant” are used to describe people who are on the move, who have left their countries and have crossed borders.

There are many reasons why people around the globe seek to rebuild their lives in a different country. Some people leave home to get a job or an education. Others are forced to flee persecution or human rights violations such as torture. Millions flee from armed conflicts or other crises or violence. Some no longer feel safe and might have been targeted just because of who they are or what they do or believe.

These journeys, which all start with the hope for a better future, can also be full of danger and fear. Some people risk falling prey to human trafficking and other forms of exploitation. Some are detained by the authorities as soon as they arrive in a new country. Once they’re settling in and start building a new life, many face daily racism, xenophobia and discrimination.


People who are refugees worldwide
Percentage of all refugees who should be resettled every year
Percentage of all refugees hosted by low and middle income countries

The world refugee crisis in pictures

Refugees and migrants try to reach the Greek island of Lesvos after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey, 30 September 2015
Refugees walk on a motorway near Edirne, Turkey, 19 September 2015.
Inside view of a tent in a refugee transit center, Opatovac, Croatia, 7 October 2015.
Asylum-seekers arrive in Nauru, 14 September 2012. The Pacific island nation hosts a detention centre for people who have tried to reach Australia in rickety boats, usually from Indonesia. Amnesty has expressed serious concerns about recent allegations of rape, sexual harassment and physical abuse of refugees and migrants on Nauru.
Italian language books are given out at the ‘Papa Francisco’ African migrant center for minors in eastern Sicily to help with them integrate into Italian society. The 80 boys aged under 18 here were all rescued off of smugglers’ boats in the Mediterranean.
These women and girls fled from Darfur, Sudan, to eastern Chad in 2013, following some of the worst fighting and violence in years.
Myanmar’s navy rescues a boat with 219 migrants on board, 22 May 2015.
Aerial view of Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan – now home to almost 90,000 people.
Girls walk through Jarahieh, a refugee settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, September 2014.