Trump's Gift to Refugees
A Forgotten People
In just a day, Trump gave refugees more attention than decades of war and genocide have garnered.
It’s likely unintended, but Trump has handed a huge gift to refugees: attention. The moment Trump signed the executive order banning travelers from certain countries, an order which was not primarily addressed to, but which impacted refugees, it seems the world erupted in a sudden wave of support for them. Protests defending them, money raised through NGOs to assist them, CEOs saying they will hire them, other countries saying they will welcome them. Whether these are sincere gestures or simply political jabs at Trump, it’s hard to say; most likely there is mix of both. Either way, refugees have received a great deal of positive attention since Trump’s order.
The irony is that refugees have existed long before Trump and, in comparison with other global and humanitarian issues, received little or no public attention. In Europe, it took a 3-year old child washing up on a shore in Turkey to grab hearts and minds, but even that was short-lived. It is surprising how few people actually understand what a refugee is or have any hint of an imagination of what their lives are like. Many have associated refugees with immigrants, or illegal immigrants; both are false assumptions.
What is a Refugee?
"Refugee" is a legal term referring to a person who has fled from his or her home country, crossing the border into another country, because of violence, persecution, or disaster. Typically, refugees are “guided” into refugee camps. They are not legally allowed in the country they are presently in and they cannot return home, so a camp is the only option. Once in a camp, a person can apply for “refugee status” with the UN, which is the first step if they want to have a chance to resettle. Because of the rapidly growing number of refugees and displaced people (34,000 added each day), the UN cannot accept everyone and it can take years to gain refugee status. Once that is accomplished, eligible refugees (meaning those who cannot possibly return to their homes) may be settled into one of the 35 countries participating in UN resettlement program. They are then vetted by the receiving country which can also take years. The process is long and grueling. The average refugee will live in a camp for 17 years; many live in camps their whole lives. When refugees resettle, they are not immigrants, and certainly not illegal. They are not immigrants, because they do not choose the country they will settle in. And when they arrive, they are given full, legal, and permanent residence with a chance to apply for citizenship in future years.
Thanks to Trump and the resulting attention, more people are aware of these realities and are far more supportive of refugees and the hardships they endure. It is unfortunate, however, that it has taken a political move, a move that only impacts a tiny fragment of the entire refugee population (thousands out of tens of millions), to obtain the attention of the American people.
How do you prefer to support refugees?
And do beware of those from outside the US who criticize Trump and the country. America has done far more than any other country to assist in refugee resettlement. In fact, even at Trump’s reduced limit of 50,000 refugees for 2017, the US will still almost double the total number of resettlement arrivals of all other countries combined (assuming historical trends for other nations continue). So while the American people have every right to question Trump on the issue of refugees, foreign leaders do not.
Regarding the brokenness of the system: this is a tough nut to crack; because the issue is polarized, it’s hard to see clearly. However, one might have been able to see signs of problems prior to Trump’s inauguration. Texas, a credible state when it comes to refugees as they lead the nation in refugee resettlement, has been questioning the process in regards to state and national security. In September 2016, Gov. Greg Abbott reported that he asked for security assurances from the FBI and the Director of National Intelligence. He also requested that next year's arrivals not exceed the state’s 2016 allocation levels. Both of these requests were denied. "As governor, I will continue to prioritize the safety of all Texans,” Abbott insisted, “and urge the federal government to overhaul this severely broken system."
Another piece of the puzzle is that Trump and other senior officials have access to classified data that we do not have. We can have no idea what threats, terror or otherwise, the US may be facing at this moment. However, the backlash received from within the Department of State does indicate an element of weakness in Trump’s decision making.
What are the implications of all this? First, we need to be aware of the real needs behind all of the political hype. We need to make sure that our commitment to help refugees is both sincere and lasting. We also need to recognize that refugees and the violence which drives them from their homes is not a new issue and that they have needed our help for years. Starbuck’s pledge to create 10,000 jobs for refugees over the next five years is admirable, but there were plenty of refugees who needed jobs last year, five years ago, ten years ago. Where were all of the pledges then? Finally, when evaluating Trump’s decision (and it is not the purpose of this article to do so), we must accept that we do not have all of the relevant information. This is not a suggestion that Americans shouldn't question Trump. In fact, he should be challenged—the American people have a responsibility to challenge their leaders. However, when we speak out, let’s be articulate and base our thoughts and opinions on the research of reliable sources.
Many people, including myself, are gravely concerned with the effects of the temporary ban and the lower admission limits on refugees. Citizens of the United States can make their voice heard by emailing or calling their congressional representatives and senators. The U.S. House of Representatives provides a "Find Your Representative" feature on their website, whereby residents can input their zip code to identify their congressman or congresswoman. Nearly all congressional representatives and senators provide the option to call or send comments via an online email submission. Americans can also send emails to the President, Vice President, or First Lady, using the whitehouse.gov website. Citizens of other countries may be able to contact political leaders and encourage them to allow more refugees to resettle in their country. By advocating for refugees, we can create more opportunities and more welcoming homes for them. Thanks for reading; please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
UNHCR, 2016 http://www.unhcr.org/524c31a09