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 flee some of the most world’s worst human rights abuses, including war, rape, violence, and torture. Torture is defined by the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”
  • 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 25.9 million refugees in the world.
  • 51% of refugees are school aged children under 18.
  • 1 person is forcibly displaced every two seconds as a result of conflict or persecution
  • 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 around 14,000 people seeking protection here from countries like Sri Lanka, Burundi and Somalia.
  • 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.