CLEVELAND, Ohio — June 20 is World Refugee Day. At this moment, refugees are fleeing Eritrea and more than 50 million refugees are receiving or in need of assistance from the United Nations Refugee Agency. The number of refugees and displaced people hasn’t been as high since World War II. This all-time high, according to UNHCR, is the result of several recent conflicts in Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Central African Republic.
According to The U.N. Refugee Agency, much of the global increase has been attributed to the conflict in Syria, which resulted in a total of 2.5 million people fleeing the country and another 6.5 million displaced within the country. Half of the global increase is attributed to Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia combined. At the end of 2013, the total amount of people forcibly displaced from their homes totaled 51.2 million. According to the UNHCR, this is an increase of 6 million from the previous years total.
These countries, which are some of the poorest in the world, currently lack the resources citizens need to provide them options other than leaving the country. Many of these countries have been engaged in civil war recently and citizens have fled to escape the oppressive and impoverished conditions they had faced on a daily basis. However, regardless of the reasons, one widespread perception of refugees is that they are a burden to other countries. This could not be further from the truth.
The objection of letting refugees work in or participate within society is centered on the concept that the increased competition would damage the host country financially. As a result, refugee camps typically prohibit work, and informal economies develop and thrive within these camps. The reality is many refugees are highly skilled workers with brilliant minds and when the public separates them from society, skilled labor is lost.
Another common perception of refugees is that they are a potential threat to security. This attitude results in feelings of angst toward refugees and immigrants. The effects of these concerns have been most recently seen in the country of Australia where a large in-flow of refugees has caused public hostility toward immigrants.
The common perception of a refugee would lead one to believe otherwise, but refugees are in fact a valuable resource rather than a burden. Inclusion within society would bring great benefit to the countries in which they arrive. With the new all time high in the number of refugees and displaced people, inclusion needs to become a strategy for dealing with the population increase. To do this, the common perceptions of refugees also need to change.