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Should We Let Refugees into Our Country?

The Editorial Board

Are refugees a burden or a blessing? It is a conundrum indeed – one that has sparked debates among policymakers. But one thing stands: refugees are humans – and there is no other lens in which to see them than the humanitarian

The recent Afghanistan takeover by the Taliban has created an unprecedented migrant crisis. Thousands of families flee to neighboring countries to seek help and shelter. The potential half-a-million increase in the number of Afghan refugees by the end of the year is something that should be on our watch, the United Nations stated. Of all the countries that offered shelter to Afghan refugees, Pakistan and Iran top the list in terms of the number of refugees sheltered. It is obvious why, as these two countries are the closest to Afghanistan and are relatively easier to reach rather than going to countries that need you to force air or sea. But not all Afghan refugees went to those two countries. Some went to countries in Europe like Germany, Turkey, and Austria. Some even got placed in the United States. Not all refugees receive equal treatment. While some may get lucky and got assigned to a host country that is helpful to refugees, some refugees might get the short end of the stick and are forced to wait a long time before being let in into the country.

In light of this recent event, we have to ask ourselves this question: should we let refugees into our country? It is a very common dilemma that many world leaders and policymakers face in this situation. Should they let the refugee in, or block them out completely instead. The issue of accepting refugees is a lot more complicated than it looks, as there are a lot of factors that come into play to consider.

The definition of refugees is coined by UNHCR as “Someone who has been legally recognized as needing protection under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention”. Although more loosely the term refugee can be described as men, women, or children who are forced to leave their home country and find shelter and protection in another country. The definition made it clear that refugees are far from privileged; they have no choice to remain in their home country without risking their safety. And the only activity that they can do is wait for people in power to help them resettle into their new homes, and it is not an exactly pleasant process.

Are there benefits for accepting refugees? Well, for one, they can amplify economic productivity in the host country. Refugees also enrich culture, bringing in new insights that native citizens might not know before. But the stigmas surrounding refugees, that they add more weight to the country’s expenditure, that they rob the native citizens’ job market remain strongly expressed by parties who see refugees from a negative light. While there are a lot of countries that are welcoming to refugees, the citizens that are living within sometimes do not follow the same attitude.

Stigma Towards Refugees

Refugees can’t seem to catch a break. They are people who are forcibly ‘evicted’ from their own homes, having to travel thousands, if not millions of miles to find a safe haven. When they eventually reach a potential safe haven, they have to endure through a grueling process of being screened first before being let into the country. Even after that, they still have to go through multiple steps before acquiring permission to enter. But even after that, some countries would not let refugees find work or make a living, so they are forced to live by the money that is being sent from the government through money transfer, which, most of the time is not enough. Sometimes, third parties help refugees through their own means, by giving refugees their own personal ‘cash card’. The UNHCR as the UN refugee agency has been supporting thousands of refugees around the world by providing them with cash support since 2016.

The most common argument against sheltering refugees is that they are going to take away native citizens’ jobs. This point of view does not apply to refugees alone, but to most migrants that went overseas to find a new place to live. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as it is very difficult for refugees to find work, as most countries do not allow refugee and asylum seekers to find work or even engage in any income-generating activities. Indonesia is an example where they enact this law.

But when refugees are given the actual chance to work and make a living, the data shows significant improvement to the country’s economy. Philippe Legrain, a political economy researcher and advisor argues that refugees are not a burden, but an opportunity. He stated that refugees can bring the same, if not more income, to a country’s economy. He further emphasizes this point by estimating that about 1,000 refugees are capable of generating 100 million dollars per year.

Rather than taking away jobs, refugees are creating more job opportunities that native citizens can actually benefit from. The International Catholic Migration Commission report found that for every business established by a refugee it increases an additional $98,200 to the country’s economy per year and research from The World Bank has shown that in 2015, Syrian refugees who are resettled in Turkey had increased the country’s average wage by opening up more job opportunities. The stigmas surrounding refugees are uncalled for, as they are baseless and misinformed. Refugees are not trying to take away the jobs of native citizens. Rather, most of them are creating their own business. They are giving opportunities to native citizens, and it is very unfortunate that a lot of people still have negative stigmas towards refugees.

A New Home

Refugees have the right to seek shelter and refuge. It is established on Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But why do some states still shy away from offering help? The arguments for sheltering refugees are not made-up. They are the truth that unfortunately gets sidelined. By bringing in refugees, the host countries can expect economic stability from the influx of new labor force. But the main thing is that helping refugees is not just an act of charity and goodwill – it is a lifesaving action. Abandoning them to their fates even when there is a choice to save them could actually mean leaving them to worse fates.

The host countries have the opportunity to give a new home to refugees. Although ideally, every refugee would want to get back to their home country, in reality, it could take years or even decades before that dream can be realized. For example, the Rohingya Refugee crisis of 2017 has about 1 million refugees and asylum seekers living in neighboring countries today, with still no sign that they can go back to Myanmar safely. Refugees can very well be our new neighbors, where a ‘host country’ could very well be their new ‘home country’.

At the end of the day, let’s put ourselves in their shoes. If it were us that have to endure the things refugees go through every day, we would want all the help we can get. The least we can do is not stigmatize the refugees. We should accept them, not because it’s ideal. And not because it’s beneficial to us. It’s because if it were us and not them, we would want help too. At the moment, the decision of whether to accept refugees into our country is decided by policymakers. But if you have the chance to help them, whether it becomes a host family or a simple donation, there is nothing bad that could come out of helping someone.

This article is featured in JUSTIN Development Review (JDR) Vol. 01 Issue 03 — December 2021

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