Time to face facts about refugees

The life of a refugee in the 21st century is full of challenges. Among them are increased vulnerability, not having a place to call home, the threats posed by smugglers and the minimal or lack of assistance by the international community.

The international community has become accustomed to references to refugees that contain negative rhetoric, with words such as ‘criminals’. This has a psychological impact on these groups of people fleeing war-torn countries. It further isolates and discourages refugees from positively contributing to the societies they flee to.

Xenophobic and verbal attacks make them fearful and make the host society fearful of them. This inhumane scapegoating of refugees and asylum seekers by assuming they are criminals or terrorists is a practice that has been used historically and more recently by politicians as a way to avoid public scrutiny of their own fiscal and domestic policy failures. Such behavior has created insecurity within the hosting societies.

More recent vulnerabilities suffered by refugees include threats of beheadings and summary executions by ISIS members in Libya, Syria and Iraq; threats of deportation from Israel; deprivation and lack of assistance in Southeast Asian countries; and protests in Australian detention camps. Many refugees continue to live in an inhumane situation, such as those in Calais.

Refugees should be seen as assets to developed nations, not as a burden. Refugees are very eager to take any kind of job and are hardworking, more hardworking even than the citizens of the host nations in many cases. Refugees often try to get a better education so that they will become a more productive part of their host society. Refugees have proven that they only need a safe place to stay. Upon arrival, with little assistance, they become independent within a few months.

Crime: fact vs fiction
Recent data by the Journal of Population Economics has shown that Immigration in Europe doesn’t increase crime victimization, but increases the fear of crime. Only 1% of Swedish police call-outs over past 100 days involved refugees as a recent report in Sweden showed. According to the American Immigration Council, in the United States, male immigrants have lower incarceration rates than men born in the country. A recent report by the Wall Street Journal stated that newcomers to the US are less likely than the native population to commit violent crimes or be incarcerated.

If nations act fast in determining the status of refugees and improve their resettlement programmes, they can eliminate any fear that society might have. During this process, refugees’ stories, not their religions, should be the defining factor.

We can eliminate the vulnerability and challenges that refugees face by creating a safe pathway to resettlement and integrating them into a society, providing them with services and support to start a new life in host nations, creating a monitoring system that checks on their progress as well as educating the host society about refugees.

Studies have repeatedly shown that with their traumatic past, refugees often make the safest part of a society once they are resettled. More secure homes for refugees will not only benefit nations when it comes to labour and skills, it will also create a more secure and safer world for all.

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This blog was first published in G7G20. Meron Yemane Semedar is a political refugee from Eritrea who now lives in the United States, where he advocates for the rights of refugees and migrants. He is the first Eritrean Youth representative at the UN Youth Assembly and a One Young World Ambassador. In 2015, Meron was recognised as one of ’21 Young People Fighting To Change The World For The Better’ by Huffington Post.