Refugee: a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster – dictionary.com
Refuge: a place that gives protection or shelter from danger, trouble, unhappiness – dictionary.com
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, 1 in 110 people across the world are displaced. Of these, a significant number are those who have been forced to leave their home countries, and who are making a life for themselves and their families in foreign lands.
When we discuss the scale of migration of people known as refugees, it’s easy to give in to being overwhelmed by the numbers: by the end of 2017, 68.5 million people were displaced. And the evidence reveals that that number is climbing at a steady rate of about 3 million people per year. Because of this massive scale, and what it says about our increasingly unstable world, migrants are often thought of, spoken of and treated in largely negative terms. We speak of the situation as ‘the refugee problem’ and we tighten border control and revoke programs designed to ease the migrant experience.
What is missed in the waves of negativity and outright bias is the fact that global migration is vital to the continued thriving of local political economies. Without migration, we would not have the diversity of ideas and approaches that energise and reinvigorate local businesses, social and political life. Changing the way we think about refugees is important. Instead of seeing a ‘problem’ that needs solving, we need to look at refugees as a regular part of life in an increasingly connected and global world. Refugees signal shifts that affect all of us, and are not an anomaly. In a lot of cases, refugees seek safety and reprieve from persecution in home states, and once they have arrived in new countries, it is our responsibility to ensure that they find refuge and are able to contribute fully and without fear or prejudice in their new home.
Here are few ways in which you, as an individual, can do this:
- If you are an employer in an industry, consider working with a programme like Maximpact’s Fast Track programme for refugees: Programmes like these provide tailor-made job-readiness courses aimed specifically at migrant communities. The focus is on intensive language and skills training and courses being delivered online or in-person, with practical modules. Maximpact’s programme in particular offers industry-specific courses, so you’ll know you are hiring people who have received the specific training you need them to have.
- Volunteer your services to train refugees in job readiness: We as people are the main drivers in the economy and we are often best-placed to transfer skills to prospective employees. Volunteer at a local shelter for refugees and teach a skill. Often, the skills most useful to job seekers are the ones that aren’t taught in formal courses, such as resumé preparation or job interview etiquette.
- Spend time with refugees and make an effort to understand their home culture: Instead of expecting refugees to take on the burden of learning a new culture, try to learn some aspects of their cultures. Taking an interest in someone’s story and in the things that bring them comfort is important in making them feel comfortable and welcome. The same fears that local people often have about the foreignness of refugees’ cultures are the fears that refugees have, except they are surrounded by foreignness. Imagine how difficult that must be. Make life a little easier and reach out to them.
- Host a refugee family in your home: There are programmes such as Air BnB’s Open Homes project and the Refugees Welcome initiative that offer safe ways to sign up as a host and match you with a guest. Offering someone safe, private accommodation eliminates some of the stress of being a refugee. Instead of worrying about one’s living conditions, refugees can then focus on the often enormous administrative burden of starting anew in a foreign country. To hear more about how this can ease the refugee experience, watch this video in which British comedian Deborah Frances-White (herself a migrant originally from Australia) shares her story of hosting Syrian refugee, Steve.
- Donate: The UN Refugee Agency and many other more local organisations provide hands-on resource-intensive assistance to refugees. Such organisations rely on donor funds, and even if you can only give a small once-off amount or an even smaller monthly amount, every little bit helps.
As the poet Warsan Shire writes, “No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land”. Refugees seek safety on local shores and they deserve to have their difficult journeys acknowledged and honoured. We can do this by framing global migration as an opportunity that presents itself with each generation. In the same way that refugees see safety and a better life in new countries, we should welcome them as an opportunity to broaden our local economy and social and political life.