(French réfugié, past participle of (se) réfugier to take refuge, from Middle French refugier, from Latin refugium)
The term was first applied in the West to French Huguenots, after the Edict of Fontainebleau (1540), who again migrated from France after revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685). Before 1914, the word meant “one seeking asylum”. It evolved to mean “one fleeing home”, applied in this instance to civilians in Flanders heading west to escape fighting in World War I.
A refugee is one that flees; especially: a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution (M-W); someone who takes refuge in a place that provides [shelter or] protection from danger or distress.
From Turkey, for instance, fled one million Armenians between 1915 and 1923, to escape persecution and genocide.
The ongoing conflict in “the home of fur”, which began in 2003, is centred on disputes over land, water, and oil.
Today we speak of one who legally qualifies for refugee status, according to the following historical progression of statutes:
- The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
- The 1967 UNHCR Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees
- The 1969 UNHCR Organization of African Unity (OAU) Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa
- The 1974 United Nations Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict
A refugee, according to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, is a person who is outside their country of citizenship because they have well-founded grounds for fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, and is unable to obtain sanctuary from their home country or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country; or in the case of not having a nationality and being outside their country of former habitual residence as a result of such event, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to their country of former habitual residence. Such a person may be called an “asylum seeker” until granted “refugee status” by the contracting state or the UNHCR if they formally make a claim for sanctuary or asylum.
We can use the word refuge to describe a physical place that provides shelter or protection or we can use it more abstractly, referring to something to which one has recourse in difficulty.