For decades the US has been the global leader in the refugee resettlement effort, thanks to historically bipartisan support. However, the results of the presidential election signal an uncertain future for refugee resettlement in the coming years.
Fear-driven rhetoric dominated the 2016 election season, and in particular, it targeted refugees. The rhetoric not only incited active opposition, but it also influenced the neutral majority by instilling doubts and distrust. Neutrals who are more or less sympathetic cringe at the pictures coming out of Aleppo and elsewhere, but are often hesitant to even passively support refugee resettlement. In the midst of uncertainties about refugee resettlement, it is our duty to fact-check the fear-driven rhetoric to discern whether that fear is worth compromising our call as Christians to embrace the stranger.
I will address three of the most commonly-held myths surrounding the refugee crisis. Staying informed, and being able to act on that information, is a wonderful privilege given to citizens of a democratic system. On top of that, our faith also compels us to defy ignorance which undoubtedly leads to blindness of the heart (Ephesians 8:14).
As we pair the common misconceptions about refugees with factual information, it should be noted that the information below is in the context of the United States and doesn’t depict all refugee situations around the world.
1. “I heard that thousands of Syrians are flooding into Europe and they’re coming here too. The government says that 10,000 Syrian refugees will be admitted. Isn’t that too many?”
Let’s talk numbers in the Syrian refugee crisis.
- 13 million fled their home to escape the violence; approximately 4.8 million Syrians fled the country and 8.7 million are internally-displaced within Syria.
- Turkey is hosting over half of the Syrian refugees who have fled the country.
- In Lebanon–a country smaller than Connecticut–Syrian refugees now comprise a quarter of the population.
- In Jordan, roughly the size of South Carolina, one in 10 residents are now Syrian.
- Canada, with a smaller population than California, has already accepted more than three times as many Syrian refugees as our goal for fiscal year 2016.
- The U.S. accepted 10,000 Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016. Out of the U.S.’s total population of 324.6 million, that’s three in every 100,000 (0.003%). Here’s where they went.
2. “There have been several recent terrorist attacks in Europe. Have refugees had any part to play? What if some refugees turn out to be terrorists?”
- Syrian refugees are fleeing their home because of the war aggravated by sectarian war involving ISIS. Refugees are fleeing ISIS-held regions in Iraq and Syria to escape the horrors of ISIS.
- It takes at least two years to gain entry to the US, and refugees go through a stringent screening process by more departments and agencies than anyone else entering the country. The U.S. has the most extensive, well-equipped, and well-maintained refugee programs in the world.
- As of 2015, the U.S. has resettled 784,000 since September 11. During this period, there has been zero instance of a refugee carrying out a terrorist attack.
- The likelihood of refugees being arrested for plotting terrorist activities is 0.0003%. See the chart provided by The Economist.
3. “Are refugees a burden to taxpayers? Won’t they rely on public assistance and deplete our resources?"
- Initially, refugees do rely on limited public assistance, all of which is suspended after 90 days. Afterwards, they have to go through the same process as anyone else seeking assistance. Refugees are required to pay back a significant portion of the resettlement cost within 42 months, notably travel expense.
- Our refugee resettlement program is designed for speedy transition to self-sufficiency. Studies have found that most refugees are employed within their first six months of arrival, meeting the goals of the U.S. refugee program. Their employment in turn increases their tax payments and other economic contributions, while decreasing their dependency on public assistance.
- The positive economic contributions of refugees has been proven across different contexts around the world. Positive economic contributions (job growth, lower unemployment) of immigrants has been proven by numerous studies; both for national and local economies.
What You Can Do
1. Share this with your friends, families and your community: Help to counter a narrative of fear with one backed by facts.
3. Contact your representative: We have the ability to influence our public officials. Research what’s happening on a local and state level, and tell your elected officials why you passionate about dispelling a narrative of fear around refugees. Doing this is an effective tool to influence the leaders whose jobs depend on listening to constituents’ expressed concerns. Congress is currently considering dramatically cutting funds for the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Admissions Program. For more information on these bills, visit Refugees Welcome Campaign website.
4. Get involved with local resettlement agencies: All across America, refugee resettlement agencies are working to ensure successful integration of refugees. You can volunteer, donate clothes, or participate in programs that connect you with a resettled refugee family. The Office of Refugee Resettlement offers a helpful map that allows you to navigate resettlement agencies around you.
5. Donate: Consider donating to charities and organizations serving refugees in war-torn regions or resettlement agencies. From aid organizations to small operations running rescue boats, most are financially constrained.
6. Get your church involved: Learn what it would take for your church to sponsor a refugee family. If your church isn’t in a position to do to that, consider starting a small group to pray and discuss how you can help.
As Christians, we know that every human is created in the image of God. Because of this, we are called to not only tolerate, but to welcome the stranger amongst us. There is no room for fear in this narrative. By addressing the myths surrounding the refugee crisis we can begin to dispel fear. But knowledge in itself is not sufficient. We are facing the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II, and our response must entail action and leadership. As we look for ways to get involved, let us fill our hearts with love and compassion for others, clear our minds by discerning truth from myth, and pursue God’s call to protect the vulnerable.
- Yaejung (Eryn) Lee recently completed an internship at the DC Office of Congressman Keith Ellison and the Advocates for Human Rights, and is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy at Humphrey School of Public Policy in Minnesota.