The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) defines a refugee as a person who flees his or her country and is unwilling or unable to return due to a well-founded fear. This fear is based on persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or for political opinion. Though the United States has a long history of providing asylum for displaced persons, the refugee program officially began with the Refugee Act of 1980, which provided the legal framework for the United States’ admissions program and set federal standards for resettlement services. Refugees account for the majority of those resettled in Tennessee and in the United States who are eligible for services through the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). They must adjust their status to Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) after one year and can naturalize to U.S. Citizenship after five years in the U.S. For more information and statistics regarding Tennessee’s refugee arrivals, please visit the TOR Reports and Data page.

Quick Facts:

  • More than 3 million refugees have arrived in the United States since 1980.(1)
  • According to the UNHCR 2018 Global Trends report, there are currently 70.8 million people displaced worldwide – 13.6 million displaced in 2018 alone.
  • The countries hosting the largest numbers of asylum seekers and refugees in 2018 were Turkey (3.7 million), Pakistan (1.4 million), Uganda (1.2 million), and Sudan (1.1 million).(2)
  • Refugees from 22 different nationalities were resettled in the Tennessee in federal fiscal year 2019. The three largest populations came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burma, and Afghanistan. These three nationalities comprised 72.4% of all refugees arriving in Tennessee.(3)
  • In 2019, 692 refugees were resettled in Tennessee.(4)

(1) Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
(2) United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 2018 Global Trends Report
(3, 4) 2019 Tennessee Arrivals Report

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