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The Refugee Crisis: What You Need to Know

Who is a refugee?

A displaced person is someone who has been forced to leave his or her home due to war, a natural event such as famine, or threat of or actual persecution.

A person is considered a refugee when he or she cannot return home due to the risk of death, mistreatment or persecution due to religion, race or ethnic heritage, political beliefs or nationality.

Refugees typically spend many years in refugee camps or, for 58% of refugees, living in urban settings under extremely poor living and security conditions.

Less than 1% of refugees get the opportunity to relocate to a new country where they can attempt to re-establish their lives in a new, safe environment.

The Global Refugee Crisis

An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been displaced— among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18—the largest numbers of affected people since the end of World War II. Over 72 percent of the resettled refugees are women and children.

Refugees come from a range of 79 countries facing war or civil conflict, with most refugees coming from the Congo, Burma, Syria, Iraq and Somalia.

Currently, the largest number of refugees comes from Syria—4.8 million.

Refugees in the U.S and New York State

  • In 2016, the U.S. accepted approximately 85,000 refugees from all over the world, up from 70,000 in 2015.
  • 10,000 of those are Syrian refugees.
  • 67 percent are children under the age of 12 and women.
  • The FY2017 Presidential Determination is 110,000.
  • New York State welcomed 4,733 refugees in 2014, with 54 from Syria.
  • 90% resettled upstate but very few in the lower Hudson Valley/ Westchester Co.

The Refugee Resettlement Process & Rigorous Vetting Process

The U.S. vetting process of refugees is the most rigorous screening process in the world. It often takes several years to complete because the safety and security of the American people is always the top priority.

A refugee and his/her family must first decide that they wish to permanently resettle and integrate into a new country and culture. (Note that the vast majority of refugees do not choose to resettle, waiting instead to return home when conditions there improve.)

Refugees then apply to the United Nations, which works with the U.S. and other nations to select and assign them to a given country.

Once a refugee family is assigned to the U.S., the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State and the Department of Defense investigate the family. The refugees are fingerprinted and their identities are verified. They are subjected to various background checks, including checking for prior political or criminal activity. (More details at

Before coming to the U.S., refugees participate in Cultural Orientation (CO) overseas.

Medical exams are conducted to make sure they carry no communicable diseases and to determine what level of U.S. health care needs they will have.

The women, children, and men invited to become Americans don’t get a free ride. They take out loans to pay their airfare to the U.S. They arrive legally, fully documented, with many skills but often without English and without much money.They appreciate the things we often take for granted: Freedom, Security, Opportunities.

For more information and statistics on refugee admissions to the United States, visit Or go to our Learn More page under Refugee Crisis.