In 1951, in the wake of World War II, the United Nations created the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. In Article 1A they defined a refugee as “A person 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 or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”
In addition, Article 14(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”
Put simply, a refugee is a person forced to flee their home country for their own safety and to escape persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, politics or social grouping. In the future, this definition may include climatic and environmental refugees, fleeing the effects of climate change but for now, most refugees are fleeing civil war, foreign invasion or violations of human rights.