We Need To Correct These Misconceptions About Refugees Now

And what you can do to help


“Refugees are not terrorists. They are often the first victims of terrorism” — António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres (Secretary-General of the United Nations)

But claiming “refugees” as “terrorists” is exactly what the Trump administration did to justify executive orders to reduce the cap on refugee admissions. The order instituted a Muslim ban which blocks travel to the United States from six predominantly Muslim countries. This is not an act to protect the safety of the American people; rather, it is a xenophobic expression of our backwards progression as a free country, intensifying with the advent of COVID.


The United States is a nation built by immigrants. It previously set an example to the rest of the world with its welcoming borders. According the the U.S. State Department, the U.S. admitted over 3 million refugees and granted asylum status to over 700,000 individuals over the past three decades. But as of 2019, the administration cut the annual refugee cap to 30,000, a 65% drop from the 2016 limit. Public support and reactions are further fueled by prejudice, misconceptions and fears that are exaggerated by unsubstantiated claims.


Some believe that refugees are simply taking advantage of America’s rich economy by moving away from poorer regions, or that refugees steal jobs and lower wages for natives. Others still believe refugees are terrorists and America will be safer without them. All three ideas are misconstrued and falsely popularized.


A refugee, as defined by international law, is someone outside the country of her nationality, who is unable or unwilling to return to her country due to persecution or fear of persecution. They have little desire to leave their families and friends behind and start fresh in a foreign country. Especially among poorer families, people are unlikely to leave their villages even when there are strong incentives present. The risk and uncertainty involved in the process is a massive undertaking that can potentially lead to even worse consequences. Most refugees have no other choice but to leave, given the precarious nature of their situation.


Furthermore, there is no evidence that suggests that increased migration negatively impacts wages of natives. Examining empirical research in recent decades, the US National Academy of Sciences concludes that “the impact of immigration on the wages of natives overall is very small” (267). You may wonder, why is that? Migrants take on jobs that many natives refuse to work, and hence they are not in direct competition with each other, as the positions would have been left unfilled. Employers favor familiarity, and research indicates that migrants do not take away jobs natives already hold, even if they offered to do it at lower wages.


The idea that terrorism in America is aggravated by the admission of refugees within our borders is largely conflated. Research indicates that the probability of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year, which is significantly lower than the chance of being murdered by a tourist (1 in 3.9 million per year). Furthermore, terrorist threat in the U.S. is found to be largely homegrown. Not only is foreign-born terrorism in the U.S. a low-probability event, it is also attributed largely to people who are citizens or permanent residents. There is little evidence that suggests closing America’s doors to refugees will protect the U.S. from terrorism.


In fact, migration brings a number of economic benefits to our country. For refugees, it takes a great deal of patience, grit, money, and ambition to get to where they are. The journey is long and arduous, and the screening and vetting process alone takes an average of two years. To be admitted to the U.S., refugees go through several rounds of background checks, screenings, and interviews under the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Therefore, those who are admitted bring their entrepreneurial energy and stamina to their host country, leading to greater innovation, higher production output, and increased consumption for our economy.


We should not let misinformation guide our views towards refugees, nor should we let xenophobia, racism, and fear overpower our compassion. They are not stealing our jobs or lowering our wages; they are not trying to take advantage of our economy nor are they increasing terrorism within our borders. In fact, refugees do not even have the final say in where they are placed; that is for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to decide.


So what can we do?


The recent coronavirus pandemic could result in further complications for refugees. Post-pandemic, the administration may continue to tighten its immigration and asylum-seeking policies for migrants. Growing economic woes, sense of nationalism, and xenophobic attitudes can squeeze the nation inwards. It is already terrifying and difficult to adjust to a foreign country while being far from loved ones, and it becomes much more challenging when the leaders of the host country seemingly despise their existence.


As we enter an altered society, we should set our fears aside and embrace solidarity.


We can start discussions and use data to help educate people in our community about the costs and rewards of migration. We can offer housing, employment, and educational assistance to ease their integration. We can advocate for greater refugee protection in the U.S., and denounce justice-obstructive policies implemented by the administration. We can provide financial assistance by donating to NGOs that support refugees. Some examples include UNHCR, IRC, Migration Policy Institute, UNICEF, Save The Children, and Alight.


But most importantly, we can offer solace directly to refugees by simply listening to their stories and better understanding the world through their eyes.