What is a Refugee?

Refugees are people who are seeking a safe haven after being forced to flee violence, persecution and war. Chased by bullets and bombs, children and families are literally running for their lives.

The word refugee come from the word refuge – "the state of being sheltered from pursuit, danger or difficulty"1. A global definition of refugees was recognized in the Geneva Convention2.

World Refugee Day was first established by the UN General Assembly in 2001, offering us a chance to raise awareness in our own communities about the conditions endured by millions of refugees every day.

There are more than 25 million refugees worldwidei. More than 11 million of them are children.

Refugee children are among the most vulnerable in the world. Every day, they risk loss of some kind, including the loss of the future that every child deserves.

Facts About Refugees

2 out of 3 refugees have been displaced for more than 5 years

While homes and possessions can be replaced, children are irreplaceable. Many refugee children have been injured escaping their homeland. Others have been orphaned or lost brothers and sisters - robbing them of a happy childhood.

Four million refugee children around the world are currently out of schoolii, leaving them increasingly vulnerable to discrimination and potential abuse, as well as exploitation by traffickers, or the pressure of entering into early marriage.

More than half of these out-of-school refugee children are found in just seven countries: Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lebanon, Pakistan and Turkey.iii

1 out of 2 elementary school-aged child refugees do not attend school


While the word refugee is generally spoken in the context of Syria or the Middle East, you would be surprised to know that the world’s largest refugee settlement is now in Uganda. Before this year, Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya was the largest, home to over 245,000 people.

In the last year, unimaginable violence in South Sudan has caused close to one million people to flee the country, more than 800,000 into Uganda, with most settling in Bidibidi refugee settlement.


Turkey hosts the highest number of refugees in the world: 3.5 million.


Without education, displaced children face bleak futures. Especially in times of crisis, education can offer a child stability, protection and the chance to gain critical knowledge and skills.

Schools can also serve as social spaces that bring together family and community members, and create bonds of trust, healing and support.

Failing to provide education for displaced children can be hugely damaging, not only for children but also for their families and societies, perpetuating cycles of poverty and conflict.


Refugee children are five times less likely to attend school than other children.

Conflict makes girls more vulnerable to child marriage. The reasons for child marriage vary greatly, depending on the context, but most of them are based in situations that become worse during conflict.

Fear of rape and sexual violence, of unwanted pre-marital pregnancies, of family shame and dishonor, of homelessness and hunger or starvation have all been reported by parents and children as reasons for early marriage.

In some instances, child marriage has been used to facilitate migration out of conflict-affected countries and refugee campsiv. In others, it has been used by armed groups, as a weapon of warv.


As important as education is for all young people, it's even more critical for girls.


Marriage of children under 18 years old is not a new phenomenon in Syria. However, with the protracted nature of the crisis, child marriage has evolved from a cultural practice to a coping mechanism.

Families arrange marriages for girls, believing marriage will protect them and also to ease financial burdens on the family. According to gender-based violence experts, this trend increased in 2017 and girls are being married at younger ages.

Girls under 18 and as young as 10 years old who are uneducated can be pressured into early marriage.


Girls living in countries affected by conflict, for example, are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys. 121 Girls in low-income countries are also significantly more likely to be out of school than boys.

In most sub-Saharan African countries, girls from the poorest households are the most disadvantaged of all in terms of school participation.

Many refugee children are not registered in the countries they've taken shelter.

Disruption of schooling is compounded in many conflict affected contexts by displacement from home. While education is available in some refugee camps, it is often disorganized, temporary, under-resourced, overcrowded and limited to primary educationvi.

Children often cannot access schools outside camps for reasons of security, lack of documentation or other restrictions.

86% of the world's refugees are hosted by developing countries where many already struggle to survive.


Uganda now hosts more refugees than anywhere else in Africa, putting enormous pressure on basic services, especially health and educationvii.

In addition to these challenges, there are growing tensions over land allocation in the settlements. As more refugees arrive in what are already some of the most deprived areas of Uganda, the amount of land allocated for more established refugees is reducing, leaving families concerned they will not be able to grow food.

Through the generous support of our donors, Save the Children works nonstop supporting refugee girls and boys, helping them survive, and thrive. Learn more about how you can help refugee children through donations, sponsorship and advocacy.


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