The Syrian refugee crisis is one of the most catastrophic global events of our time. It’s also caused a bitter divide in countries around the world.
You’ve already heard all the statements about refugees:
We’re letting these people in and we have no idea who they are.
They don’t love America or have American values. [Substitute for your own country]
Their culture doesn’t fit in with ours.
They’re going to steal all of our jobs.
They’re criminals, rapists, and murderers.
They are terrorists and they will destroy America.
These ideas aren’t new – they’ve been around for centuries. People fear what is different and have always been suspicious of foreigners.
What Exactly is a Refugee?
The term ‘refugee’ gets thrown around a lot and used interchangeably with immigrants, illegal immigrants, and even terrorists.
A ‘refugee,’ however, is a legal term that’s protected by international law. It’s specifically defined by the United Nations as:
“A person 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, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”
In other words, refugees are people who flee their home country because their lives are in danger, and their home country cannot protect them. This is the case for millions of people, but in order to gain official “refugee” status granted by the UN, they have to go through great lengths to prove this.
We’ve created so much hype and bias around refugees that it gets in the way of being able to understand them. So if you really want to know what a refugee is, wipe the slate clean and start from scratch.
A Refugee is a Human Being
They are people just like you and me. Yes, YOU and ME.
They are daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. It doesn’t matter what political, cultural or social label you put them, they are people.
And that common thread of humanity should be stronger than any of or perceived differences. Being able to see another person as a fellow human being is what saves our own humanity.
A Refugee is a Victim and a Survivor
It’s easy to place assumptions about people’s background and intentions. People who have never met a refugee will assume that a refugee is coming over to hurt them, but it’s all based on emotional fear.
It’s ironic that refugees are labeled as terrorists when they themselves are fleeing from terrorists.
Refugees are victims. In addition to the danger that they’re running away from, they often become vulnerable to a whole new set of dangers including homelessness, kidnapping, forced labor, human trafficking, prejudice, and further violence.
A Refugee is Highly Vetted
One of most common misunderstandings about refugees is that they are easily let in. It’s the ignorance that refugees aren’t vetted that leads to support for moronic ideas like the US travel ban.
Refugees already face the most difficult screening process out of any group of people, having to pass through multiple interviews, interviews with relatives and neighbors, background checks, fingerprint and biometric screening, criminal and terrorist checks from multiple agencies and many other qualifiers.
For a refugee to enter into the US, here is a sample of the various US and international agencies that they are screened by:
- Department of State
- Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
- Department of Defense (DOD)
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- Bureau of Customs and Border Protections (CBP)
- National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC)
- Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
- Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
- US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USICIS)
- Interagency Check (IAC)
- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
- International Organization for Migration (IOM)
These are just some of the big hitters. There are about 350 offices, agencies, or departments involved, and this process usually takes 2 years to complete.
What further vetting is needed?Refugees to the US are screened by 350 offices over 2 years. Do we really need more vetting? #RefugeesWelcome Click To Tweet
A Refugee is an Economic Asset
Many fear that an influx of refugees would lower wages and steal jobs from nationals. But that just isn’t true.
A normal flow of migrants into a country wouldn’t have any negative impact. An influx, such as in the Syrian refugee crisis, would put a strain on the economy. You have more people sharing the same resources and it puts pressure on the government to provide as refugees would have no immediate contribution.
However, refugees aren’t just visitors. When then migrate to a country, they are rebuilding entirely new lives there. This means that they buy stuff, get jobs, and pay taxes, all which pour into the economy. A report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) indicates that all the European countries who have accepted the largest numbers of refugees, such as Germany, Austria and Sweden, which actually see an increase in GDP over the next several years, based on data from previous refugee influxes over the past decades.
A Refugee Has Shared Values
The notion that refugees don’t share the same values as Americans or any Western nation is nonsensical. Refugees come from many different places and cultures, so it doesn’t makes sense to lump them all together with a set of values and say that they differ.
Yet even despite the cultural differences, there are deeper, shared human values that refugees has with the countries they are migrating to.
They want to live in peace and security.
They want to work hard and earn a living.
They want their children to have a better future.
They want to be good neighbors and contribute to their community.
They want to eventually be citizens and integrate into their new country.
How do I know this? Because I was on a volunteer team that helped to resettle a Muslim family in Los Angeles. Also, this was the story of my own family.
A Refugee is a Human Being
This needs to be stated again. Refugees are human beings just like you and me. They have hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, and the universal human belief that tomorrow can be better.
But we degrade and dehumanize them because that makes it a lot easier to hate them.
It’s a lot harder to hate someone if they could possibly be your daughter or son, your mother or father, your sister or brother.It's a lot harder to hate someone if they could possibly be your sister or brother. Click To Tweet
Stereotypes are created when people make judgements based on a lack of knowledge. Ignorance breeds misunderstanding. Misunderstanding breeds fear.
Having a correct understanding about refugees places a level of responsibility on you – a responsibility to correct ignorance, to dispel myths, and to speak up and advocate for those most vulnerable.
When we allow fear and anger to dominate our lives, we end up becoming less human and create an uglier and more dangerous world for ourselves and our children.
But I’m hopeful that in times of crisis, we won’t be defined by fear, but rather by courage and compassion. How we respond to this refugee crisis will be characterization of our generation for years to come.