While reading a news story, I came across a word I didn’t know.

“Although the Nepal government is not a signatory to international refugee conventions, the refoulement is a clear breach of the ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’ between the Nepalese government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),” the group said in an e-mailed statement late on Friday.

There are, to be sure, lots of words I do not know. But this word—refoulement—was an interesting word. Re and -ment I could get, and they would work with -foul- (as in befoul), but that didn’t fit and there was a pesky -e- embedded in it. Could this be some French word that means something akin to “make into a dirty state again?” That didn’t quite fit the context.

So, I looked in dictionaries for refoulement. I checked the built-in widget that Apple provides with Mac OS X. I checked the Mirraim-Webster widget (thanks, Sam!). I even checked my trusty old Webster’s New World (College Edition; thanks, Dad & Mom). None of them yeilded a hit.

So I resorted to—gasp!—the Internet. I learned refoulement refers to expulsion of people who deserve to be recognized as refugees to a country where they might be persecuted (thanks UNESCO). More specifically, I found that non-refoulement “is a principle in international law, specifically refugee law, that concerns the protection of refugees from being returned to places where their lives or freedoms could be threatened,” and the principle is included in the Geneva Convention (thank you Wikipedia).

Of course, you students of foreign affairs will be chuckling now about my limited vocabulary. But, I’m happy. I learned something new. In addition, I learned more about words. I like words. I think I’ve created a couple of other posts about words. Perhaps I should have a category of posts called, “Words.”

The original source of my bemusement was a Reuters story headlined “Group Says Nepal Deports Tibetan Man to China” that I saw in the Washington Post.


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