Events over the last couple of decades have brought refugees into sharp focus in the public consciousness. There is a clear humanitarian imperative to welcoming displaced people into our country. After all, they’ve faced challenges that are often unimaginable to those of us who have been privileged to grow up in a peaceful, democratic society. Yet, there is still a huge amount of negativity surrounding the concept of helping refugees by welcoming them into our communities.
Often this negativity is the result of misinformation. It’s important to understand that allowing entry to refugees doesn’t automatically equate to an easy time for them. Moving to a new city is difficult and scary for anyone — aspects such as finding employment and housing, integrating with the local systems, and navigating the living costs can be mental and emotional drains. Now imagine, on top of that, refugees are being forced for their own safety to move to a new country, leaving behind belongings, familiarity, and often their family members. Yet, despite what conservative media would have us believe, these people who have undergone hardships do not represent an undue burden on the communities they join. Quite the opposite is true.
Let’s explore the benefits a little further.
At the most basic level, welcoming refugees into your community improves the diversity of our neighborhoods. We may think that our community already has a range of contributors, but often this is considered from a purely North American point of view. Engaging meaningfully with refugees opens us up to gaining insights into broader perspectives that can benefit our growth.
These benefits can include:
- Developing Empathy and Compassion
When we welcome migrants into our communities we have the chance to have conversations with those whose personal, political, and socioeconomic experiences have been very different from our own. This means that both adults and children in our neighborhoods get to understand the types of struggle, hardship, and tenacity that have been overcome, through a different lens. We can use this to enhance the empathy and compassion with which we navigate our own lives, and seek to build a kinder, more accepting world.
- Building Community Strength
Diverse communities that recognize the value in one another’s perspectives forge stronger bonds and develop relationships that can help one another in the struggles each goes through — whether daily or when tragedies occur. We live in a changing, developing world, and the better access to varied perspectives our communities have, the better able we are to navigate the challenges involved.
The issue of jobs can be something of a bone of contention; there’s a lot of uncertainty about how refugees affect the job market and even their capacity to work. The fact is that refugees have many of the same rights and responsibilities as those who are on the path toward permanent residency. This doesn’t just include the basic, inalienable rights that we are used to, such as freedom of speech, and retaining adequate representation or access to counsel if we should run afoul of the law. Although, it’s worth pointing out that these things are particularly important to reinforce for people who may not have similar legal systems in their home countries. Among refugees’ rights is the opportunity to gain employment.
Much of the contention from communities in this area surrounds the fallacy that the presence of refugees who are allowed to work will result in jobs being taken away from American citizens. Aside from the xenophobia and discrimination that underpin this argument, it’s important to point out that it is, for the most part, factually baseless. Instead, refugees tend to bring a different set of skills — both technical and soft skills — which see them applying for different types of jobs than those sought by Americans.
However, the presence of refugees actually has positive effects on communities in respect of workforces. Refugees often come from backgrounds of good education in their homelands, but their qualifications aren’t always recognized in the U.S. Therefore, businesses benefit from having diversely educated workers who can help spur innovation. Additionally, a study found that the presence of refugees in low-skilled positions may encourage native workers to engage in upskilling to make themselves more competitive in the job marketplace. This means that including refugees as part of the workforce can be instrumental in stimulating growth and success for everybody involved.
Communities often express concern about the cost of welcoming refugees. While there is a certain amount of federal and state aid that goes toward the logistical, legal, and security expense that is necessary for programs to operate safely, it is more often the case that refugees provide significant value to the communities they enter.
It’s important to understand that when refugees have opportunities to gain employment, they don’t just contribute to the local economy by paying taxes. They also buy items at stores and use their disposable income at restaurants and entertainment venues. When communities embrace the refugees in their midst, there is the added opportunity to influence their use of local enterprises. Refugees who build connections with their neighbors and forge friendships have a greater incentive to support small business owners and help their neighborhoods grow.
This raises another salient economic element. Rather than simply remaining employees of other companies, refugees tend to open their own businesses. Across the U.S., migrants represent around 25% of all entrepreneurs. This means that communities get the opportunity to enjoy more varied business offerings, and migrant business owners can contribute more in business taxes. It also follows that refugees have a role in stimulating job growth in the community, as their businesses seek to employ the local people that have welcomed them into their neighborhoods.
Refugee support is not just an ethical duty of stable nations and their citizens, it is also a privilege. When communities welcome displaced people into their midst, there are opportunities for personal development, economic stimulation, and the sharing of skills and experiences. When locals fully engage in making connections with refugees, we enrich the lives of everyone involved in the process.