Samantha Higgins

There is no denying that everyone is talking about refugees these days; it is in every paper, on every social media site, and I’ve discussed it in almost every class. That being said, everyone has their own opinion, but UNH had Dennis Wilson come from Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services last week to discuss some of the myths that are coming up in the debate over refugees.
I personally find this to be an important issue, so I’m going to reiterate some of them, with my views, for anyone who wasn’t there.

Before I go over the myths that Wilson shared, let me just say that I had the opportunity to work at IRIS during the Summer of 2014 as a President’s Public Service Fellow. The refugees that I met were the most kind and grateful people I have ever come in contact with in my life. Not a single one of them deserves to be treated poorly in the wake of a disaster, even if it was carried out by “one of them,” as the media portrays it. We don’t hate on all white men after they go shoot up high schools or movie theaters, do we?

Some basics when it comes to refugees: there are 19 million worldwide, the United States has resettled 750,000 since 9/11, and we are currently averaging 70,000 a year.

The first myth that people say is that refugees are really economic migrants, but in order to become a refugee, the person must show that they face persecution due to their race, membership in a social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin. Their economic hardship doesn’t give them asylum. This is something that breaks my heart because, while working at IRIS, I heard a lot of their stories. These stories included losing family members, leaving people behind, and being threatened–not about leaving their homes for money, as people here are accusing them of doing. They have had difficult lives and left everything behind to survive.

Another myth that many people believe is that refugees are undocumented. This is also untrue; refugees undergo an 18-24 month process to come to the United States and, in the process, they have background checks and immense security checks. They also fill out paperwork to receive documentation, so with refugee status, they are able to work and receive social security cards. When they arrive to IRIS in Connecticut, they receive help creating an American resume, and applying for jobs so that they can support themselves and their families.

People are also saying that the Middle East isn’t doing anything to help the refugees, so why does the U.S. have to? The Middle East is, in fact, helping the refugees. Jordan is home to 600,000 Syrian refugees. In Lebanon, one in five people is a Syrian refugee, and Turkey is currently protecting 1.9 million Syrian refugees.

To those who claim that “refugees are a threat to our national security,” I’d like to ask you to open your minds to the facts. The refugees pass stringent background checks before entering the United States–the longest process compared to all other countries. Another point is that the process to become a refugee is so long and grueling that to seek refugee status as a terrorist really doesn’t make sense.   And to point out the number that really matters in all of this: the number of refugees who have committed acts of terrorism within the United States is zero. (Please feel free to compare that to the number of domestic terrorism acts, number of teens who have gotten their hands on guns and shot up their high schools, number of “mentally ill” white males who have shot up other locations, I think you get my point- which occurs more?)

The last myth is that “refugees are a burden” (First off, to who? Because the people who work with them love them, and the people who don’t just suddenly became experts last week). This is the comment to which you need to take the time to think about history. Where are your parents from? Your grandparents? Your greatgrandparents? Because at one point, someone in your family was a refugee. Someone brought your blood line here, and without them, you wouldn’t be here. Along with that, there are famous refugees in history. (Albert Einstein ring a bell?)

I’m not saying that everyone needs to be 100 percent in favor of refugees coming to America. All I am saying is that you should know the facts and the myths if you are going to be against it. If you truly think it’s wrong, take a day to hear their stories. Spend a day learning the culture–it’s a life changing experience, and they have struggled enough without being stereotyped and discriminated against in “the land of the free.”

As far as I am concerned, no matter how difficult the politicians make it, there will always be people willing to fight for basic human rights, and, to me in the U.S., that means #RefugeesWelcome.