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  Displacement, banishment and exodus are as old as human history but the legal concept of refugee was not formulated until the twentieth century inter-war period (1919-39). Two basic statutes (the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951 and the UN Protocol, 1967) extend international protection to refugees, defined as persons who, owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, are outside the country of their nationality and either unable or unwilling to return. This broad definition encompasses refugees who are conventionally classified according to their desire or possibility of returning to their homeland (so-called majority-identified, events-alienated and self-alienated refugees). The Convention/Protocol definition does not include internally displaced persons and victims of repressive military or economic policies, however, and there are at least 5 million such persons according to UNHCR (1998; refugees are often defined situationally — Harrell-Bond, 1986). At present there are almost 15 million refugees; two-thirds are in Africa and Asia with the African continent accounting for about half (6 million) of the world\'s refugees (UNHCR, 1998).

Although many displaced persons and refugees may experience only limited geographical relocation — for example the current (turn-of-the-century) crisis in Central Africa illustrates how many thousands of people shuttle back and forth across borders and in and out of refugee camps in response to the civil wars and ethnic strife in Congo, Rwanda and Burundi — one important feature of the twentieth-century refugee landscape has been the global relocations. Many thousands of Albanian refugees have arrived on Italian shores, for example, in the same ways that very large populations of Cambodian and Laotian refugees reside in the Central Valley of California, and huge Somali populations in rural and small-town Minnesota. Just as there are many practical problems associated with rehabilitating refugees from camps into sustainable livelihoods in Africa and Southeast Asia, so there are equally compelling problems of assimilation and cultural adaptation associated with the arrival of Third World refugees in the advanced capitalist states. Problems of alienation, unemployment, and exploitation surround these refugee communities, and raise difficult questions about the extent to which such populations can attain something like citizen status or whether they are socially excluded (ILO, 1995; cf. citizenship). Not all refugees are poor or marginalized, of course; some political refugees flee persecution as well-placed (and wealthy) politicians and activists who continue their political and oppositional work from afar. Some of the key figures in the Iraqi, Kashmiri and Somali movements — whether nationalist, secessionist or ethnic — are based in London, Toronto and New York, which has led some commentators to refer to refugee communities as the source of \'fax nationalism\'. (MW)

References Harrell-Bond, B. 1986: Imposing aid: emergency assistance to refugees. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ILO 1995: Social exclusion. Geneva: International Labor Organization. UNHCR 1998: The state of the world\'s refugees. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Suggested Reading Malkki, L. 1995: Purity and exile. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.



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