Religion and the Refugee: Part 1

This is part one in a three part series on religion and the refugee. For the introduction to this series click here. Religion Defines the Refugee

Religion is an integral piece of the definition of a refugee under international law. According to the 1951 Convention that legally defined what a refugee is and the rights to which he is entitled, a refugee is a person who:

... owing to 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.... (Art. I, Sec. A, Par. 2).

The second reason listed for persecution is religion. Since the 1951 Convention hundreds of thousands of individuals have been granted refugee status and protection under international law because of persecution they endured owing to their religion. The UN is not bound to defend those practicing a certain religion, but rather to protect the freedom of all human beings to practice the religion of their choice without fear of persecution. This is why a Syrian Christian fleeing from Daesh, a Bosnian Muslim caught in the 1995 genocide, and a Hindu from India escaping the violence of his Muslim neighbors could all end up resettled as refugees in the same American city.

Despite the fact that religious persecution remains one of the primary reasons for the increase in refugees worldwide, the causes and effects between religion and forced migration remain largely unaddressed in academics and politics. The clear and simple defining link between religion and the refugee begs to be explored. In part 2 of this series we will consider the possibility that the religious nature of the majority of human cultures has contributed to the creation of refugees.