Learn a Fact About Refugees

Below are some simple facts about asylum seekers and refugees. 

  1. Definitions and why do they matter?
  2. Refugees and asylum seekers in Ireland
  3. Famous refugees and famous children of refugees

If you would like to learn more about international protection and the work of UNHCR there's plenty more information on this website www.unhcr.ie and on the global website www.unhcr.org

Definitions and why do they matter?

It's really important that we use the correct terms and the appropriate language when dealing with sensitive subjects. It isn't about being politically correct but it's because different legal implications, rights and regulations apply depending on someone's status. Incorrect definitions can also lead to misunderstandings and in the worst cases to prejudice and negative attitudes. Click on each question below for some simple facts about that issue.

Who is a refugee? (click for answer)

International law defines refugees as people

  • who are outside their country of origin and
  • whose life and or human rights are seriously at risk because of
  • who they are (e.g. their race, nationality, social group), or what they believe (e.g. their religious beliefs or political opinion); and
  • their governments will not or cannot protect them.

Refugees are entitled to be protected against forcible return to their countries of origin. This is known as the principle of non refoulement.

Who is an asylum seeker? (click for answer)

The terms asylum seeker and refugee are often confused. Asylum seekers are people seeking recognition as refugees, who are waiting for the government to decide on their case. These people are entitled to stay in the State while their application to be considered as a refugee is being considered. They also have a right to a fair hearing of that application and to an appeal.

Are asylum seekers illegally in the country?  (click for answer)

There is no such thing as a bogus asylum seeker or an illegal asylum seeker. Everybody has a right to seek asylum in another country. People who don't qualify for protection as refugees will not receive refugee status and may be deported. But just because someone doesn't receive refugee status doesn't mean they were a bogus asylum seeker. That would be the same as calling an unsuccessful plaintiff in a case a bogus plaintiff.

What is subsidiary protection? (click for answer)

Subsidiary protection can be given to people who do not meet the legal definition of a refugee but are still in need of international protection because they would risk facing the following threats if returned to their country: (1) the death penalty or execution; (2) torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or (3) threats from an international or internal armed conflict. This status was created across the EU by a Directive.

People who flee civil wars and other conflicts may be refugees. If they don't cross an international border, they are referred to as 'internally displaced people' or IDPs.

What is trafficking? (click for answer)

Trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means such as deception, coercion or force, for the purpose of exploitation. With regard to the trafficking of children, the definition is the same as that for adults with an important exception. Once a child is recruited, transported, transferred, harboured or received by a person for the purposes of exploitation, it is deemed to be trafficking. A child does not have to be deceived or coerced in the same way that an adult does.

Some victims of trafficking may also be in need of international protection arising from circumstances related to the trafficking or for other reasons outside of this.

What's the difference between a migrant and a refugee? (click for answer)

Migrants and refugees increasingly make use of the same routes and means of transport, including undertaking dangerous sea crossings and using people smugglers. They are, however, fundamentally different and, thus, are treated differently under international law. Migrants, especially economic migrants, choose to move in order to improve their lives. Refugees have to move if they are to save their lives or preserve their freedom.

Where in the world are most of the refugees? (click for answer)

Currently more than 37 million people are displaced by violence around the world. Many people think that the majority of refugees and asylum seekers come to Europe but this is not in fact the case. The reality is that while the Refugee Convention was designed initially to deal with the displacement of people within Europe, in the aftermath of World War II, Europe for a long time has not been home to most of the world's displaced. In fact the vast majority - about 80 percent - are hosted and cared for in developing countries, not industrialized ones.

For example, when violence and conflict broke out in Libya in early 2011 the majority of the almost 1 million people who fled the violence were offered safety in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia, before they were able to be evacuated home or were offered refuge if returning home was not possible. It’s estimated that less than 2 percent of those leaving Libya came to Europe.

To learn more about the 1951 Refugee Convention click here and to learn more about the history of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and our work today click here.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Ireland

  • There are approximately 10,000 refugees living in Ireland today. Many other refugees who came to Ireland in the past are now Irish citizens.
  • Refugees have come to Ireland from all over the globe, fleeing from persecution and conflict. Many of them have made enormous sacrifices to get themselves and their families to safety and to start, under the protection of the Irish State, to re-build their lives.
  • There are currently approximately 4,571 people living in 34 reception centres around Ireland, most of whom are awaiting a decision on their application for refugee status, for subsidiary protection, or for humanitarian leave to remain (as at end June 2013).
  • Asylum seekers living in these centres are provided with three meals daily.
  • They receive EUR 19.10 a week per person and a further EUR 9.60 per child.
  • On occasion, they may receive a supplementary payment to help cover costs such as school uniforms and school books for their children.
  • They are not entitled to work.
  • Children under 18 are entitled to primary and secondary level education.
  • In 2012 there were 955  applications for refugee status in Ireland. In the first half of 2013, there were almost 500 applications.


To learn more about the asylum process in Ireland click here.



Famous Refugees and Famous Children of Refugees

There are many famous people in the world today and throughout history who are or were refugees, or who came from families where one or both of their parents were refugees. You might be surprised to learn about some of them like one of the most famous refugees - Albert Einstein! If you find out about any others, don't forget to let us know and we'll add them to our list - email us at cronnell@unhcr.org

Musicians and pop stars  (click to find out!)

  • Rita Ora - Rita's parents fled from Kosovo during the conflict there when Rita was still a baby.
  • Regina Spektor – singer, songwriter and pianist. Originally fled Soviet Russia at the age of nine and now based in New York
  • Shingai Shoniwa – lead singer of the Noisettes. British-born daughter of Zimbabwean refugees
  • MIA - English-born singer. Part of a Tamil Sri Lankan refugee family
  • Mika - famous singer who fled from Beirut Lebanon
  • Bob Marley - Fled Jamaica to Miami after being shot during political violence
  • Olivia Newton-John - singer and actress - granddaughter of refugee Max Born
  • Gene Simmons - Member of Kiss. His mother was a Holocaust survivor
  • Oscar Straus - Austrian-Jewish composer and refugee
  • Maria von Trapp - autobiography, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, inspired The Sound of Music
  • K'Naan - Somali "The Dusty Foot Philosopher" Hip Hop Artist now living in Toronto, Canada

Actors  (click to find out!)

  • Jackie Chan - Fled to the United States from Hong Kong after being threatened with death by the Triads
  • Rachel Weisz - actress. Both her parents are Jewish refugees
  • Billy Wilder - film director and writer, and a Jewish refugee
  • Jerry Springer - Talk show host. His parents were German refugees
  • Marlene Dietrich - actress and refugee from Nazi Germany
  • Ben Elton - comedian and grandson of a Czechoslovakian refugee

Politicians (click to find out!)

  • David & Ed Miliband – British MPs and sons of a Belgian Jewish refugee
  • Madeleine Albright - First female U.S. Secretary of State whose family fled Czechoslovakia in 1938
  • Henry Kissinger - U.S. State secretary who fled from Germany to USA in 1938
  • Vladimir Lenin - Soviet leader and a refugee who fled to Switzerland
  • Karl Marx - The philosopher and creator of Marxism was a German refugee
  • Sitting Bull - Sioux tribal chief. He left America for Canada
  • Leon Trotsky - Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist

Writers and artists  (click to find out!)

  • Tom Stoppard - a British playwright who left Czechoslovakia as a child refugee. He co-wrote Shakespeare in Love and has won several Tony Awards.
  • Isabel Allende - Chilean-American Author of The House of Spirits. She fled Chile after receiving death threats.
  • Victor Hugo - Author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Due to his political beliefs, he was forced to flee France several times
  • Vladimir Nabokov - Russian novelist and short story author. Escaped to Europe from the Russian Civil War and then to the United States from the advance of Nazi Germany
  • Lucien Freud - The well-known British painter, he was born in Berlin and fled to the UK with his family to escape Nazism
  • Marc Chagall - a Russian-born Jewish refugee and early modernist painter
  • Peter Carl Fabergé - Russian jeweller who fled to Switzerland. He is famous for creating the Fabergé egg.
  • Camille Pissarro - A French-Jewish refugee. He is considered the father of Impressionist painting
  • Sir Alec Issigonis - Designer of the best selling British car in history, the Mini

Others  (click to find out!)

  • Albert Einstein - German-born theoretical physicist. He did not return to Germany once Hitler came to power.
  • Mario Stanic - Former footballer with Chelsea. He also played for Sarajevo F.C. who were targeted during the Bosnian War
  • Christopher Wreh - Former Arsenal footballer and Liberian refugee
  • Alek Wek - Supermodel who fled Sudan with her family, known for her political activism
  • Lord Maurice Saatchi and Charles Saatchi - Founders of the famous Saatchi and Saatchi advertising agency, their father was an Iraqi Jewish refugee.
  • Sigmund Freud - Father of psychoanalysis, an Austrin Jew who fled from Nazism
  • Claude Lévi-Strauss - French-Jewish philosopher and anthropologist who was also a French refugee
  • Jesus Christ - Family fled from Israel because of King Herod


do 1 thing poster

Download this poster for your school, community group, family or workplace, print it out, fill it in and let everyone know what 1 thing you did to show that you are 1 who cares.

do 1 thing fact sheet

Download this poster for your school, community group, family or workplace, print it out, fill it in and let everyone know what 1 thing you did to show that you are 1 who cares.