139 refugees crowded on a boat leaving Haiti
139 people crowd onto a boat leaving Haiti for the Turks and Calcos Islands in the Carribean. © UNHCR


Refugees flee because it is unsafe to live at home. It may be unsafe because they are being persecuted or they fear persecution as a result of who they are or what they believe. Refugees may have had their human rights violated or threatened because of their political opinion, their membership of a particular social group, their nationality, their race or their religion. War may have broken out in their country.

Flight from persecution often involves difficult and dangerous ordeals along the way. Many refugees are forced to flee at night in the midst of conflict and confusion. There may be no time to collect travel documents. For others it is too dangerous to travel on genuine passports or identity papers.

Source countries

The countries that refugees flee from are referred to as source countries. War or conflict is usually prominent in these countries.

During World War II in the 1940s many refugees came from European countries.
In the 1970s many refugees came to Australia from Vietnam and Cambodia due to the American Vietnam war and Indochina conflicts. During the last decade many people have come to Australia from Iraq and Afghanistan because of the wars.

Refugee people come from a variety of religious, ethnic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Around 750 000 in humanitarian need resettled since 1945
  1. More than 3400 people from Sierra Leone resettled since 1999
  2. Around 3000 Liberians resettled since 2004
  3. More than 2800 Congolese (Democratic Republic) since 2005
  4. 170 000 displaced persons from Eastern Europe between 1947 and 1954
  5. Almost 6000 Czechs resettled after the Prague Spring in 1968
  6. 14 000 Hungarians resettled after the 1966 uprising
  7. Around 42 000 people resettled from the former Yugoslavia since 1991
  8. 180 000 Lebanese resettled after the 1975 civil war
  9. Around 29 000 Sudanese resettled since 1996
  10. More than 3600 Ethiopians resettled since 2000
  11. More than 3500 Somalis resettled since 1996
  12. Around 52 000 people resettled from the Middle East and South West Asia since the late 1970s
  13. 14 000 White Russians from China resettled between 1947 and 1985
  14. Nearly 2700 Bhutanese resettled since 2008
  15. Almost 12 000 Burmese resettled since 2004
  16. More than 155 000 Vietnamese resettled since 1975
  17. More than 16 000 people from Central and South America resettled since 1973
Figure 3: Historical resettlement to Australia from DIAC Refugee and Humanitarian Issues Australia's Response, June 2011


People escaping conflict in recent years have travelled from countries such as:

  • Syrian Arab Republic
  • Afghanistan
  • Bhutan
  • Iraq
  • Iran (Islamic Rep. of)
  • Somalia
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Central African Republic
  • Myanmar (Burma)
  • Eritrea
  • Columbia

The UNHCR provides information that shows refugee source countries and destination countries. This can be found at UNHCR » Statistics and is illustrated in maps at UNHCR’s map portal.

More information

UNCHR - Global Trends 2018

UNHCR - Figures at a glance

Department of Home Affairs - Humanitarian programme statistics