A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries. More than half of all refugees worldwide come from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan.


When people flee their own country and seek sanctuary in another country, they apply for asylum – the right to be recognised as a refugee and receive legal protection and material assistance. An asylum seeker must demonstrate that his or her fear of persecution in his or her home country is well-founded.

  • No one chooses to flee their country to be a refugee, but everyone has the right to seek asylum and receive protection.
  • Asylum is a human right alongside other basic human rights like the right to marry, to have a family, to go to school, to go to work.
  • The right to asylum is enshrined in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”
  • Refugees are amongst the most vulnerable people in the world. The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol help protect them. They clarify the rights of refugees and the obligations of the 148 states that are party to these instruments.
  • There are 22.5 million refugees in the world. Around 85% of them are hosted by poor countries.
  • 51% of refugees are school aged children under 18.
  • 20 people are forced to flee their home every minute.
  • Although China has signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, it has not been extended to Hong Kong, making it one of the only wealthy, developed jurisdictions in the world not party to this human rights instrument. This means that refugees are not protected by the state in Hong Kong and cannot stay here long term.
  • Hong Kong has one of the smallest global refugee populations. There are only around 6000 people seeking protection here from countries like Sri Lanka, Burundi and Somalia. That is only 0.08% of people in Hong Kong.
  • Many Hong Kongers were once refugees themselves. Between 700,000 and 1 million refugees came to Hong Kong in the 1950s, eventually comprising one-third of the city’s population.

For more information on Refugees in Hong Kong, see our Homepage.