Benefits of Hosting RefugeesIn 2019, the U.N. Refugee Agency reported that there were about 26 million refugees globally. An estimated 68% of refugees come from just five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar. Refugees exist in a state of flux, with their futures and fates in the hands of potential host countries. Refugees are one of the world’s most vulnerable groups yet the idea of hosting refugees comes with hesitancies due to misinformation and misconceptions. There are several benefits of hosting refugees.

Refugees Bring Productivity

There is a misconception that refugees come into a host country and subsist on benefits instead of working. Though not every country allows refugees to work, those that do allow this, see just how productive refugees are. Often unable to use their credentials in other countries, refugees are known for starting from the ground up and they are effective at it. Economic advisor, Phillipe Legrain, estimates that 1,000 refugee businesses could generate $100 million each year. If host countries loosen restrictions and allow refugees to expand their job opportunities, it could significantly improve the economies in host countries.

This would also mean making language learning classes and integration courses more accessible, but in the long run, the fiscal rewards outweigh the cost. Countries that allow refugees to work and open up businesses know that the influx of productivity is one of the major benefits of taking in refugees.

Refugees Enrich Culture

Some fear that accepting refugees means that the native culture will disappear. According to Anna Crosslin of the International Institute in St. Louis, cross-cultural understanding is vital for integration. Events like the annual Festival of Nations, which is run by the International Institute, not only help expose St. Louis residents to other global cultures but also help immigrants feel more at home. Even though there are differences between each culture, most cultures are incredibly similar at their core. Refugees are fleeing the same things ordinary citizens fear: families being torn apart, the right to vote being taken away, lack of education and more.

Refugees do not aim to disrupt the culture of their host countries but enrich it. They may bring with them different practices, foods and religions, but in the end, most people have similar ideals.

Refugees Stimulate the Economy

The more people participating in a country’s economy the better. Economic activity alone is one of the many benefits of taking in refugees. There is an initial investment required when allowing refugees into a country. Housing, language classes, healthcare, sustenance. All of these things cost a significant amount of money to provide, but once refugees are established in their host country, the initial investment pays off.

Refugees start businesses that employ locals, pay taxes and generate wealth. In countries with an aging workforce, young refugees entering the workforce complement their work and allow them to retire, while also contributing to social security or pension funds. Being able to work and make money, in general, allows refugees to stimulate the economy of their host country. Refugees allowed to work and enterprise are great for an economy, much more so than refugees that are not allowed in or not allowed to work.

Refugees Complement the Job Market

There is a misassumption that refugees take jobs away from their host country’s job market. Most studies conclude that refugees have very little effect on the job market at all. The U.S. State Department’s analysis of the labor market over a 30-year period showed that not only did refugees not negatively impact the job market, but they had no effect when compared to regions with no refugee population.

The work migrants do actually fill in the job market. In the United States, it is migrants doing much of the hard, physically demanding work like farming and cleaning meat and fish for consumption. These are jobs that not many native citizens want to do. The economic benefits of taking in refugees are also seen in areas with low domestic migration. In these places, migrants offer an economic boost that native citizens do not.

Refugees Bring Novel Skillsets and Knowledge

Many cultures make rugs, but who makes them like the Persians? Who can delicately remove the meat from a poisonous pufferfish like a Japanese sushi chef? Every country and culture has something that makes them stand out, something that they can teach and share with others.

Refugees offer language skills that natives might not. Many already have professional qualifications from their home countries. Most refugees exhibit a high degree of adaptability, a skill that is important in every industry. To top it off, organizations benefit greatly from diversity, experiencing greater profits, collaboration and retention than organizations that are not as diverse. Though refugees are not the only way an organization can become more diverse, the experiences, skills and perspectives gained are some of the greatest benefits of hosting refugees.

Welcoming Refugees

Resistance to accepting refugees is often due to misconceptions. Native citizens fear a disruption in their economy and culture. But in actuality, refugees stimulate the economy, enrich culture and supplement the job market. Better understanding the benefits of hosting refugees will hopefully mean that countries globally will be more accepting of this vulnerable group, realizing that benefits are provided on both sides.

– Maddey Bussmann
Photo: Flickr

University of Southern California (USC) has a course called “Innovation In Engineering and Design for Global Crises.” As part of the class, a team of USC undergraduates visited the Moria refugee camp to learn from and engage with the displaced peoples about their experiences. The need for more livable housing was the impetus for students’ project development. The result was Torch Tile — an adaptable, low-cost, user-friendly solution to the sheltering challenges of the displaced peoples in Moria.

Living Conditions of the Sprawling Moria Refugee Camp

On the eastern coast of the Greek island of Lesvos, is the Moria refugee camp. Moria is the largest refugee camp in Europe. It is the landing pad for the daily stream of refugees fleeing from Afghanistan, Syria and Turkey via a harrowing boat trip across a six-mile stretch of the Mediterranean Sea. The camp was originally designed to shelter 3,000 people. Currently, it is overflowing with over 13,000 refugees.

Tents sprawling the foothills surrounding Moria have constituted as impermanent shelters or “homes” for these refugees. Some asylum-seekers have even established residence with flowers, hand-made tandoori ovens and power cords for hijacking electricity. Despite these additions, the tents are no match for the temperature swings of Greece’s climate. In the summers, heat waves can break 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Winters on the island bring lasting snow from the sea moisture. Asylum-seekers can expect to wait a year before their asylum applications are processed ensuring they will experience both extreme weather conditions.

In the past, asylum-seekers have employed cardboard and tarps in an attempt to block out the extreme cold and heat. Increasing the temperature a few degrees led to refugees living in environments with dank, humid air that condenses on the tent inner walls. Running water is only available inside of Moria, and these moist environments put asylum-seekers at risk for health complications. Many suffer from pneumonia and heat stroke, which there are limited resources with which to treat.

In stepped the Torch Tile.

The Product

After over thirty different prototypes and dozens of hours of overnight testing, the team created the Torch Tile. The users’ needs were at the forefront of the creation’s design. The product comes in 36 or 55 sq. ft. sheets that can be laid side-by-side (like tiles) to fully surround a tent. The sturdy, lightweight and flexible material of the tiles is Aluminet.

The knitted screen-like material allows for airflow, reduces indoor humidity and lets light into the tent for visibility. Secured using zip ties and draped over the tent ceiling, the Torch Tile cools the interior by deflecting outdoor heat and light on warm days. Similarly, in winter weather one layers a tarp over the Torch Tile to warm the tent by 5-15 degrees by reflecting body heat inward.

Then, the team founded Torch Global Inc., a nonprofit currently fundraising to mass produce tiles for distribution. The goal is to provide tiles for those in Moria and for the unsheltered populations in Los Angeles.

Protecting Homes during the Coronavirus Pandemic

The distribution of Torch Tiles has been paramount to enabling people to self-isolate during the coronavirus pandemic. One Torch Tile user from Los Angeles shared, “I have COVID and can’t isolate because my tent is too hot. This product will keep my tent cooler, so I can actually stay inside and isolate.” Recently Torch Global Inc. fundraised $13,000 for the ordering of 1,500 more Torch Tiles — protection for 1,500 more people in their homes.

The collective, global mobilization and coordination of resources necessary to resolve the refugee crisis in Greece is unlikely to occur soon enough. Even when it is, situations and conflicts will likely displace more people in the future, and asylum-seekers living in tents will be inevitable. By thermo-regulating shelters, Torch Tiles alleviate one aspect of refugees’ vulnerability and address the downstream effects of displacement.

Tricia Lim Castro
Photo: Flickr