For the past year I have involved myself in work that assists and raises the awareness of the hardships of refugees, both locally and on an international scale. What I have noticed is that along with the flood of compassion for these people is also animosity and even cruelty. With the giant influx of refugees from Syria and it’s surrounding countries since 2015 there has been an influx of anti-refugee rhetoric to go with it. This can include racism veiled with fear or concern, anti-refugee protests, or even political leaders threatening to tighten already stringent immigration screening processes: “‘We have no idea who these people are, where they come from,’” Trump said of Syrian refugees during his speech in Phoenix. ‘I always say, Trojan horse. Watch what’s going to happen, folks. It’s not going to be pretty.’” (Gambino.) Rhetoric like this is not based in fact and is born out of racial profiling in fear that terrorists will be brought in with the refugees. “As Kathleen Newland, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, wrote, ‘the refugee resettlement program is the least likely avenue for a terrorist to choose.’” (Goudeau). Not only that, but Syrian refugees are vetted through an impressively thorough screening process. We know every refugee that comes into our country, and we know them well.
What I and others who are working with local refugees here in Oregon are left to wonder is, what is the cost of anti-refugee rhetoric? As part of my community work, I have an art class with refugee children, a few of whom wear hijabs. I have to wonder that with proposals and promises of monitoring refugees because of their religions what these children’s perceptions of themselves will be? Will they feel like prisoners in this country, supposedly the Home of the Free, built by immigrants just like them? They come from countries where their homes are torn apart by war and terrorism, only to flee to places where there is acceptance of the public viewing them as a threat. Are any of us aware of the unfairness in this? A refugee becomes a refugee because they can no longer live in their country. They are threatened by terrorists and then escape only to be viewed as those who threatened them. It’s like getting robbed and then being called the thief.
If there is one thing I have learned from working with refugees is that there are so many different perceptions of them from outsiders. There are those who are generally unconcerned and that are sympathetic, but only enough to spare a passing frown (I was one of these people), there are those who are empathetic and are passionate about giving refugees aid, in whatever form that takes. This aid could be donations to foreign relief, sharing their homes, or even just correcting a false piece of information about the refugee crisis. There are even those who find them cowardly for running away from their home countries, people who I imagine have not even considered the actual reality in which refugees live. Then there are those who perceive them as a threat and speak ignorant prejudiced verbosity, as described in the former paragraphs. This is the most dangerous perception because it breeds fear. Not in those who speak the rhetoric, but in the refugees themselves. How must it feel to have another government turn against them?
These are all perceptions of a group of people who see themselves as just that, people. The refugees whom I have heard speak, and those who I have met, are people who have gone through hardships I cannot even imagine and are still alive. They are people who want jobs, homes, and to live in safety. This is an excerpt from an interview with refugees living in a camp in Lebanon that I personally transcribed: “We just want a calm life. No headaches… Eight hours work, eight hours family, eight hours sleep.” Sounds like you or me, doesn’t it? I wish I could tell this person that they would have nothing to fear if they came to live in this country, but with the rise in anti-refugee rhetoric from those running our country, I can’t.
Anti-refugee views are fueled by hateful magniloquence from a conversation at the kitchen table to the speeches delivered by those who run this country. When refugees are finally granted resettlement —-only 1% of the approx. 65 million refugees worldwide—- they come to places where they are unwelcome. They are faced with invisible barbed wires that are built by racist rhetoric, separating them from everyone else. The cost of these barbed wires is a country filled with hate and ignorance, a country uncompassionate to the suffering of others, not the place of hope for freedom that it should be.
Gambino, Lauren. “Trump and Syrian Refugees in the US: Separating the Facts from Fiction.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 02 Sept. 2016. Web. 26 Nov. 2016. Article that effectively separates the facts from fiction from recent rhetoric. A good piece to educate others on the reality of the refugee situation in the U.S.
Goudeau, Jessica. “The Devastating Cost of Anti-refugee Rhetoric Fueled by Donald Trump.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 4 Nov. 2016. Web. 26 Nov. 2016. Wonderful opinion piece with stories from refugees themselves who are living in the U.S.
Vainisi, Mike. “Next Time You Hear Someone Say Syrian Refugees Are Dangerous, Show Them This.” ATTN:. N.p., 24 Nov. 2015. Web. 26 Nov. 2016. This source, briefly, but efficiently explains the screening process for Syrian refugees, who are subject of so much uncertainty. It provides graphics and illustrations to further describe the process.
The main combatant against anti-refugee rhetoric is awareness. Being aware of the facts, not the fictions, will lead you to speak out against the fear and racist actions that harm refugees. Being aware of what refugees actual go through when they are forced to leave their homes and their journeys will hopefully lead you to be compassionate and offer a helping hand. A good place to explore this is to go to Mercy Corps’ website. Mercy Corps does foreign relief work in countries all over the world and their are many articles with stories on individual refugees. To understand what refugees do to acclimatize themselves when they are resettled in a new country, you can explore the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization’s website. This organization provides a plethora of resources for refugees, from job training to language learning. You can volunteer there as well to connect with local refugees themselves. There are also many different charities here in Oregon (Lutheran Community Services Northwest and Catholic Charities) that offer opportunities to assist newly arrived families in finding apartments, furnishing them/giving supplies, and mentorship to help them assimilate.