(looking at his hands) This is a sorry sight.”
-Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 2, Shakespeare
Everyday, a fresh set of tragedies are translated onto our screens. Real life horrors that rarely affect us as the gravity of the situation is lost in a series of cold alienating data. One recurring article would be the Syrian Refugee Crisis.
The ongoing tragedy resulted from the civil war and conflict between the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, opposition forces, and ISIL that began in 2011. As of February 2016, over 470,000 men, women and children have died and more than 11 million have been forced to flee their homes. Migrants streaming into Europe alone number in the hundreds of thousands; the largest influx since World War 2. The vast majority of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line and face a constant struggle for food, accommodation and health care.
Refugee support is direly needed in this crisis, the worst seen in the last 20 years. However, should countries be obliged to give refugees this support?
For many governments, the answer is no. Most governments are unwilling to take in refugees due to the burden they place on education and health facilities, energy, transportation, social services and employment. They also consume scarce resources, creating competition with the local citizens. Local communities in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt are under such strains.
They may cause inflationary pressures and depress wages, significantly altering the economics of a society. Additionally, austerity policies enacted since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis have left citizens in many European countries feeling economically and socially insecure. This is compounded by fears that refugees will take advantage of government benefits.
National security is yet another problem. Public anxiety has led to hardening of attitudes in recent years. The CIA reported last year that ISIL’s strategy was to mingle its operatives with refugees entering Europe and America from the Middle East and North Africa. This proved to be true during the Paris massacre when two of the terrorists posed as refugees from Syria. These fears are stoked by the fires of government officials incessantly repeating how there is no possible way of vetting refugees and thus preventing terrorists from entering the country.
Advocating immigration has become politically difficult in the West as opponents continually cast refugees as economic and social burdens. These false arguments stem from misinformation and irrational fear.
Refugees are not a burden but are instead a boon to the country. A large influx of refugees does not mean fewer jobs for the existing population as economies do not have a finite number of jobs. Numerous studies reveal immigrants bolster economic growth by increasing labor force and consumer demand. A study by the National Bureau Of Economic Research found immigration benefited local populations in 19 of 20 industrialised countries. Another study found that an influx of refugees into Denmark in the 1990s led native workers to switch from manual labour to higher-skilled jobs and earned better wages.
It is true that money is required to finance a fresh start. After all, refugees arrive penniless; leaving behind their homes and livelihoods. However, in the long term, refugees benefit the economy, bringing skills and a willingness to work. Some start new businesses creating jobs for others. The less skilled often take jobs that are hard to fill, like in child care, allowing more parents to work.
What’s more, refugees generally pay more in taxes than they claim in government benefits, resulting in a net benefit to host countries. The UCL Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration confirms this is the case in Britain. Another study found that reducing immigration to Britain by 50% as David Cameron advocates would reduce the country’s GDP and force the government to raise tax rates to keep its budget balanced.
On the flip side, a Congressional Budget Office report in 2013 estimated that giving undocumented workers a path to citizenship and making more employment-based visas available to foreigners would raise the G.D.P. by 5.4% and lower the federal budget deficit by $897 billion over 20 years, showing how refugees are potential assets to the economy.
In America, many government officials who claim vetting is impossible fail to mention the stringent screening processes in place: the UNHCR first collects documents and conducts interviews. The less than 1% of refugees worldwide who receive recommendation for resettlement are referred to the State Department to be put through security screening by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. This is followed by an interview with USCIS officers. Refugees fingerprints are run through the biometric database of FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defence. Beyond this, there are health screenings and cultural orientation classes all while information continues to be rechecked against constantly updated terrorist databases. This 18 to 24-month vetting process is extremely rigorous.
This debate remains an endless cycle which fails to focus on the moral obligation of countries to accept refugees.
Do not forget: Syria is in a vicious civil war from which refugees are fleeing in order to survive. Syrians are different from other immigrants seeking economic, social or political opportunity. They will die if they do not flee.
This is THE ISSUE: Do you allow an entire group of human beings to perish when you have the means to save them?
Syrian refugees are the victims, not perpetrators, of terrorism. They simply seek survival, safety, security and opportunity. They deserve a chance at life and have great potential to contribute to their new homes. Therefore, my stand is to give Syrian refugees the support they need to live.