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 US Citizenship after five years in the US. 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 US since 1975(1).
  • According to the UNHCR 2015 Global Trends report, there are currently 65.3 million people displaced worldwide – 12.4 million displaced in 2015 alone.
  • The countries hosting the largest numbers of asylum seekers and refugees in 2015 were Turkey (2.5 million), Pakistan (1.6 million), Lebanon (1.1 million), and Iran (979,400)(2).
  • Refugees from 32 different nationalities were resettled in the Tennessee in federal fiscal year 2016. The four largest populations came from Congo (DRC), Iraq, Syria, and Somalia. These four nationalities comprised 65.8% of all refugees arriving in Tennessee(3).
  • In 2015, 1,956 refugees were resettled in Tennessee(4).

(1) Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
(2) United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 2015 Global Trends Report
(3,4) 2016 Tennessee Arrival Report

Please visit the Info and Resources section for more information.