In a speech delivered at the U.S. Institute of Peace on Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power chided wealthy nations for using terrorism fears to justify their reluctance to admit more refugees into their countries.
“Ignorance and prejudice make for bad advisors,” Power said in her prepared remarks, noting that 31 U.S. governors reacted to the terrorist attacks in Paris, France last year by refusing to resettle Syrian refugees in their states. “Yet that is what is driving the ill-informed and biased reactions we have seen to these and other attacks from some in our country.”
More than 65.3 million people were displaced from their homes as of last year due to conflict, persecution, or political and economic insecurity.
Power’s speech — which also previewed President Obama’s plan for the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees in September — dispelled several common myths about refugees and the supposed threat they pose to their host countries:
MYTH: Refugees cost the U.S. government a lot of money.
“You might be surprised, though, to learn how little refugees actually receive from the U.S. government,” Power said. “Resettlement agencies are given a one-time amount to cover initial housing, food, and other essential expenses of $2,025 for each refugee. And while refugees can apply for additional federal assistance, such as funding for job training or special medical assistance — no supplementary support is guaranteed — and most lasts a maximum of eight months. […] Refugees are also responsible for repaying the cost of their plane tickets to the U.S. within three and a half years.”FACT: The International Organization for Migration (IOM) provides interest-free loans for refugees to pay for their U.S.-bound flights. Refugees must then pay back the U.S. Department of State within 42 months, with the average loan amount hovering around $1,200. The State Department’s Reception and Placement program gives a one-time sum of $2,025 to help refugees with their first few months in the country. The funds generally go towards rent, furnishings, food, and clothing, and other expenses not donated or provided by volunteers. Beyond that, refugees must find jobs and provide for themselves.
MYTH: Refugees take away jobs from Americans.
“People fear that refugees will place an additional burden on states at a time of shrinking budgets,” Power said. “The concerns tend to coalesce with two arguments in some tension with one another: Either refugees will deplete government resources through a costly resettlement process and through requiring public support for years or they will find work quickly, taking jobs away from native-born citizens and drive down wages.”FACT: In the short run, refugees with inadequate language skills may take entry-level jobs, leading to wage depression. In the long run, studies have shown that the vast majority of the three million refugees admitted to the United States since 1975 have integrated well into their local communities and may even become entrepreneurs. A recent Center for American Progress report looking at four groups of refugees — Bosnian, Burmese, Hmong, and Somali — found that refugees tend to start businesses, which helps to expand local economies. Among the refugee population, the report found that about 31 in 1,000 Bosnians, 26 in 1,000 Burmese, 22 in 1,000 Hmong, and 15 in 1,000 Somalis create their own businesses. (The national average is about 31 entrepreneurs in 1,000 U.S.-born Americans.)
MYTH: Terrorists could disguise themselves as refugees.
“If your aim is to attack the United States, it is hard to imagine a more difficult way of trying to get here than by posing as a refugee,” Power said.FACT: After the Paris terrorist attack in November 2015, a fake Syrian passport was found near the body of a suicide bomber. Though the other perpetrators were European nationals, the passport was justification enough for U.S. governors to clamp down on the refugee resettlement process, worrying that terrorists might abuse the system.
But there’s no real link between refugees and terrorists. First of all, the process is rigorous — it can take up to two years to undergo the refugee application process in the United States, which involves intensive screening tactics like conducting face-to-face interviews and collecting biometric information. What’s more, of the roughly 800,000 refugees admitted since 9/11, not one has carried out an act of domestic terrorism.
MYTH: Helping refugees would show that the terrorists have won.
“Violent extremist groups like ISIL, al-Qa’ida, and Boko Haram also stand to benefit if we fail to respond adequately to the refugee crisis,” Power said. “A central part of the narrative of these groups is that the West is at war with Islam. So when we turn away the very people who are fleeing the atrocities and repression of these groups; and when we cast all displaced Muslims — regardless of whether they were uprooted by violent extremists, repressive governments, or natural disasters — as suspected terrorists; we play into that narrative.”FACT: If the suicide bomber’s fake Syrian passport is any indication, terror groups really want people to equate Muslims and refugees with terrorists. But by doing the opposite of the hatred that terror groups espouse, and accepting refugees, “we show that our conflict is not with Islam, but with those who kill and enslave people simply for what they believe, where they are born, or who they love,” Power noted.
Welcoming Muslim immigrants deeply undercuts the terrorist organization Islamic State’s goal of polarizing Western society. In fact, the group hopes to provoke European and U.S. governments to overreact against the vast majority of Muslims so that they would, in turn, “[emigrate] to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the Crusader governments and citizens,” according to its online magazine Dabiq.
***Power also previewed three goals for the September summit to get countries to step up their efforts in this area. Namely, she called on countries to make a “deeper commitment” by increasing humanitarian relief by 30 percent, asked governments to “double the number of refugee admission slots worldwide,” and urged “frontline countries” to grant upwards of one million children with education and one million refugees with legal employment opportunities.
The United States has fallen behind schedule in resettling 10,000 refugees by the end of the fiscal year. But Power said that the U.S. would admit 15,000 more refugees in the following year for an overall goal of receiving 100,000 refugees, a “40 percent increase in two years.”