In 2013 an estimated 51 million people worldwide, half of which are children, were forced to leave their homes, according to a recently released annual report by the United Nations, and this number does not include the most recent refuge increase due to violence in Iraq. While most in the survey are homeless in their own country (internally displaced people or “IDPs”) there are around 16.7 million who are refugees in other countries.
In some countries, camps are set up to provide temporary housing and services for displaced populations. However, many of these camps tend to be long-term homes due to protracted conflicts in the refugees home countries.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which registers refugees at camps around the world, refers around 1 percent of all refugees for resettlement into third countries each year. The countries that have robust resettlement programs take on the responsibility of providing refugees a place to rebuild a life, often in a place where they have no understanding of the culture and rarely speak the same language. Major resettlement countries around the world include: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.S.
The United States is the largest resettlement country in the world, receiving nearly 70,000 refugees per year. While many in the U.S. see this commitment to helping refugees around the world as an obligation and moral imperative, there has been some backlash from mayors around the country who have complained about the strain incoming refugee populations are having on their city’s social services.
The Mayor of Springfield, Massachusetts, Domenic Sarno, recently joined mayors from New Hampshire and Maine in calling for an end to the refugee resettlement programs in the U.S., saying that the U.S. State Department has not been receptive in addressing his concerns about the challenges his city is now facing.
While concerns about being able to meet the needs of incoming refugees is a legitimate question, addressing a city’s larger infrastructure, education and housing needs go much further in making sure that all residents are able to access the services they deserve.
The refugee resettlement program has been a long-standing feature in the U.S., bringing in groups from all around the world. Many cities receive larger populations of a certain group due to family reunification measures and the connections that a community already has established.
In the last couple of decades, the number of refugees around the world has increased, making it necessary to resettle more, not less refugees. Backlash often comes due to the strain caused by a few who struggle when they first arrive, but it overlooks the benefits that refugees add to communities. In an effort to address the negative stereotypes, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants created a “Here for Good” campaign to demonstrate the positive impact that refugees are having on communities across the U.S.
As the country that accepts the most refugees in the world, the U.S. is providing an opportunity for families to start a new life and buy into the American Dream. Resettlement organizations in the U.S. provide services for up to six months after a family arrives. During that time, refugees attend job training, cultural education and English classes to help them assimilate and join the workforce. All refugees have to pay back a loan from the International Organization for Migration that allowed them to come the U.S. in the first place.
Concerns about the impact that refugees have on communities will be an on-going issue as more refugees are resettled in the U.S. However, as a country that prides itself on diversity and acceptance, cities across the U.S. must not focus their attention on stopping resettlement, but rather find a way to harness the new talent and potential that refugees bring – because they when they arrive, they are more often than not “Here for Good.”
– Andrea Blinkhorn