Iraq: Shaqlawa, Erbil, 15 December 2015 _ _Iraqi Red Crescent Society volunteers distribute a truckload of relief items to be provided to IDPs in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. _ _There are currently an estimated 3.18 million internally displaced people in Iraq, as well as 245,000 registered Syrian refugees. As winter closes in, many are facing severe daily challenges in carrying on their lives. Iraqi Red Crescent Society has been providing food and non-food relief items to support those in greatest need. _ _Photo: Stephen Ryan / IFRC

Across the world, villages, towns and cities are discussing the refugee crisis every day. Here are the five essential facts you need to know.

1. The word ‘refugee’ has a special meaning and history.

What’s the difference between an immigrant, an asylum seeker and a refugee?

Often these words are rolled in together. But they don’t mean the same thing.

An immigrant or migrant has deliberately moved to a new country. It was their choice. There may be lots of reason why. Maybe for love, for work or just for a change of scene.

On the other hand, a refugee has left their home country suddenly. They leave because they are faced with persecution and lack any protection.

The 1951 refugee convention says that a refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, has left their home country.”

It’s entirely legal under these circumstances to escape and find safety in another country, however you get there.

While your case is being reviewed in your host country you are called an ‘asylum seeker’.

The authorities then decide what your legal status should be, such as confirming you as a refugee.

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2. Today’s refugees are breaking records.

In 2015, the number of people forced to leave their homes through conflict and persecution passed 60 million for the first time.

In fact, 24 people had to flee their homes to seek protection every 60 seconds in 2015. What a terrible number.

Of those 60 million people, 45 million stayed within their home country as internally displaced people.

More than half of refugees came from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. The five-year conflict in Syria has swelled recent figures.

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3. Most refugees don’t end up in Europe, let alone the UK.

Developing countries host four in five of the world’s refugees.

Pakistan, Ethiopia, Turkey and Lebanon are each home to more than a million refugees. Staggering when you think each country hosts a comparable number of refugees to the whole of Europe.

Less than one per cent of the world’s refugees live here in the UK.

Refugees arriving at Slavonski Brod train station in Croatia. Croatian Red Cross volunteers assist the arriving people who are then directed to busses heading for registration. After registration almost all refugees continue to Slovenia.
4. Europe has a long history of migration. But the current European refugee crisis is something new.

In 2015, over one million people came to Europe to seek refuge.

Refugees fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan form the vast majority of people seeking asylum.  Though there is also a large contingent of people from African and Balkan countries.

Desperate people often pay a large amount of money for the chance to reach Europe. In many cases it’s a very dangerous journey.

The arrival of these people is not new. Migration in and out of Europe is a longstanding trend, but what is new is the scale of arrivals.

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5. For those refugees who do make it to the UK, their lives can still be tough

The UK received only 38,878 applications for asylum in 2015. That might sound like a lot but it’s less than the population of Bath, Carlisle or Galway.

Just 39 per cent of asylum applications made during this year were granted at the initial stage. Many people are initially refused because it is difficult to provide the evidence needed to prove they are a refugee.

When they get here, many face an uphill battle to be reunited with their families. That’s because refused family reunion cases have risen to 40 per cent (up from 29 per cent in 2014).

Similarly, refugees are left destitute by bureaucratic delays with their claims. Without access to public funds, housing and legal employment, people are often exposed to homelessness, abuse and exploitation.

Edited on Thursday 30 June 2016.