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We live in a rapidly changing world in which refugees and forced migration have a significant impact on the economic, political and social agendas of sovereign states, intergovernmental agencies and civil society groups.

An aerial view of one of the camps at Dadaab, Kenya © UNHCR / B Bannon
An aerial view of one of the camps at Dadaab, Kenya

Today, tens of millions of people are refugees, raising fundamental challenges for governments around the world. The definition of a refugee, as enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, is someone who ‘is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.’

But this definition has been regularly challenged over the past 60 years, and is under constant review by academics, governments and humanitarian agencies. Many forcibly displaced people around the world do not easily fit within this formal category. They and their rights are in urgent need of protection. 

Developing an understanding of the causes and consequences of forced migration and gaining the intellectual and practical skills to deal effectively with its challenges are essential, both for addressing the causes of forced migration and for the management of effective programmes to assist refugees and other forced migrants.