A 10-year old boy sits with his grandmother in a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh.

Ten-year-old Amir* lives with his grandmother in the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Amir was separated from his mother when violence erupted in Myanmar and he ran for safety.

What Is a Refugee?

A refugee is a person who is seeking a safe haven after being forced to flee violence, persecution or war. 

Refugees are defined and protected in international law. And seeking asylum is not a crime. While every refugee is initially an asylum seeker, not every asylum seeker will ultimately be recognized as a refugee. 

Many refugees around the world live in vulnerable conditions, including refugee camps, informal settlements and on the streets. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread globablly, many refugees will not be in a position to social distance themselves or maintain basic hygiene, including simply washing their hands. 

Facts About Refugees Around the World

As the world is now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record, here are some things to know about refugees.

  • By the end of 2019, there were nearly 26 million refugees in the world — a record number. 
  • Half of the world's refugees are children
  • In Syria alone, more than 6.6 million people have fled, seeking safety in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and beyond.
  • In Lebanon, where more than 1 million Syrian refugees reside, approximately 70% of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line.
  • Over the past three years, more than 75,000 children have been born in the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar.
  • About 30% of refugees arriving through the Balkans are children, while roughly25% of these children are unaccompanied. 
  • At least 3.7 million refugee children are out of school, a figure likely worsened by the COVID pandemic.
  • Less than 1% of all refugees are ever able to resettle and find a new life in safety and security.

Commonly Asked Questions About Refugees

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.

A four-month old baby is held by his mother and grandmother, both Rohingya refugees, in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.

Four week-old Ismil* was born in a makeshift settlement in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. His mother and grandmother fled for their lives when their village  in Myanmar was burned.

Why do people become refugees? 

People become refugees for a number of different reasons, including: 

  • Persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion
  • War
  • Ethnic or political violence

For well over a decade, the number of people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution has steadily increased. In 2012, these numbers spiked, resulting in what is now recognized as a global refugee crisis.

Several major crises around the world have contributed to the rising number of refugees, including: 

  • The on-going conflict in Syria, now in its tenth year.
  • The conflict in Afghanistan—where most unaccompanied children in Europe are from—remains among the deadliest for children.
  • South Sudan’s displacement crisis, which followed its independence.
  • The rapidly escalating violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in 2017, which forced over half a million ethnic Rohingya to flee the country for their lives.


A four-year old refugee boy looks out from a tent set up in a camp in Syria for displaced children and families.

Living conditions in refugee camps, like the one four-year old Karim* lives in, often provide little protection from harsh winter weather causing some children to freeze.

What are refugee camps and why are they created?

Refugee camps are temporary settlements created to provide refugees with immediate aid and protection. 
Forced from home, refugees are often left with little to call their own. Lacking food, clean water, clothing and proper hygiene supplies, refugee children and their families are vulernalbe to disease, abuse and worse.
There are refugee camps all over the world. Some of the largest refugee camps in the world include: 

  • Bangladesh
  • Uganda
  • Kenya
  • Jordan
  • Tanzania
  • Ethiopia

  • A 12-year old boy stands outside in Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda.

    James*, age 12, fled his home in South Sudan and lives in Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda. 

    How many child refugees are there in the world?

    Half of the global refugee population, nearly 13 million, are children below the age of 18. 
    Far too many refugee boys and girls are living in conditions not suitable for children, with limited access to education and healthcare, no freedom of movement, and almost entirely dependent on aid.
    Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it wass estimated that half of all refugee children in the world – 3.7 million – were out of school.
    Rohingya refugee Mohammed* stands in front of a Save the Children nutrition center after receiving his dose of Vitamin A

    Rohingya refugee Mohammed* stands in front of a Save the Children nutrition center after receiving his dose of Vitamin A.

    What do refugees do?

    Refugee's lives have been thrown into a state of chaos because of what they experienced in their home countries prior to displacement, as well as on their journeys to find safety. 
    Like anyone, refugees need food, shelter and the opportunity to thrive. But after leaving everything behind and without livelihood opportunities to earn an income, many refugees struggle to survive. 
    With the generous support of our donors, Save the Children is able to provide refugee children and their families with the essential items and relief.

    COVID-19 and Refugees: The Most Vulnerable Are Paying the Highest Price

     For children who were struggling before this crisis, things have only gotten worse, often much more so. With the impact that COVID-19 has had on the economy, refugee families will be pushed even further into poverty, and child labor will increase amongst these communities.

    • Refugee children who have lost parents or caregivers to COVID-19 are at risk of neglect, abuse and exploitation.
    • Rates and severity of malnutrition among refugee children may increase if food supplies are negatively affected by the pandemic.
    • Many children living in refugee camps have weakened immune systems or underlying health conditions as a result of living in desperate conditions.
    • Reductions in child protection services can make refugee children vulnerable to child trafficking and child marriage.

    Why Is Helping Refugees Important?

    As, the global leader in child-focused humanitarian response, Save the Children helps more children in crisis recover and return to learning than any other global humanitarian organization.

    Munguiko*, 14, takes part in activities at the Save the Children space in Rwamwanja refugee settlement.

    Munguiko*, 14, takes part in activities at a Save the Children space in Rwamwanja refugee settlement in Uganda. 

    The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that we are living in an extremely interconnected world and must focus on the fate of everyone around the world, especially our children.

    Girls and refugee children stand to suffer the most from the harmful impacts of COVID-19. Rohingya refugee children in Cox’s Bazaar and children living in war-torn Syria already had difficulty accessing health services and continuing their studies prior to COVID-19. 

    Now, this unprecedented disruption to children's education and rising poverty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could force at least 9.7 million children out of school forever, with girls, refugees, and internally displaced children most affected. 

    With 26 million men, women, and children now forced to flee their home countries due to conflict and persecution, it's more important than ever to take action to help improve the lives of refugees. 

    The United States has long been a leader in resettling refugees. We demonstrate our best as a nation, uphold our values, and lead by example when we welcome refugees.

    * Name changed for protection.

    How to Help Refugees and Refugee Children

    Save the Children works in the hardest-to-reach places, where it’s toughest to be a child, so that refugee children can grow up healthy, educated and safe. Your support makes this lifesaving work possible.

    Please donate to the Children's Refugee Crisis Fund to help refugee children have the future every child deserves.

    Learn More About the Refugee Crisis Around the World


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