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Under international law, a refugee is a person who is outside his/her country of nationality or habitual residence; has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution. They are distinguished from economic migrants who have voluntarily left their country of origin for economic reasons.

Those who seek refugee status are sometimes known as asylum seekers and the practice of accepting such refugees is that of offering political asylum. Some governments are relatively tolerant and accepting of asylum claims; other governments will not only refuse such claims, but may actually arrest those who attempt to seek asylum. The most common such claims are based upon political and religious grounds.

In the world, about 10 countries take quota refugees for example from refugee camps. Usually they are people who escape war. They are then quota refugees. In late years, most of quota refugees have came from Iran, Iraq and former Yugoslavia.

The practical determination of whether a person is a refugee or not is most often left to certain government agencies within the host country, this can lead to abuse in a country with a very restrictive official immigration policy. That is, the country won't recognize the refugee status of the asylum seekers nor, for that matter, see them as legitimate migrants and consequently treat them as illegal aliens.

Under the 1951 Convention on Refugees and 1967 Protocol, a nation must grant asylum to refugees and cannot forcibly return a refugee to their nation of origin. Refugees are also the subject of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Many nations routinely ignore this treaty.

Palestinian refugees from 1948 and their descendants do not come under the 1951 convention or UNHCR, but under the earlier UNRWA agency. As such they are the only refugee population legally defined to include descendants of refugees, although many other refugee populations (notably the Biharis) have remained in refugee camps for more than a generation, making their children effectively if not legally refugees; see Palestinian refugee.

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