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Debunking Common Myths About Refugees

Debunking Common Myths About Refugees

By Willow Sylvester


From political campaigns to media coverage, there is a lot of misinformation about refugees. A lot of the myths about refugees start with politicians all around the world who want to attract nationalist and isolationist voters. Media outlets as well as individuals on social media will then disperse this misinformation further into the general public. More often than not, someone cannot be blamed for having misinformation. What’s most important is that we all care for each other and educate one another when possible. Here, we’ll address 12 of the most common myths about refugees and share the facts with you that disprove these myths. 

The Myth: Refugees are a burden on the economy and steal jobs from local workers.

The Truth: The U.S. Department of Labor has conducted research that disproves this myth because it is such a persistent myth. In the United States, refugees need to go through the same application process as citizens when applying for jobs. In fact, in many cases refugees face formal and informal barriers to obtaining jobs in the U.S. such as workplace discrimination and education records not being recognized. The U.S. Department of Labor found that refugees and immigrants in fact have a high rate of creating jobs for U.S. citizens because of how many refugees and immigrants start their own businesses where they employ others.  Another report showed that resettled refugees pay billions of dollars a year in U.S. taxes and found that refugees have a higher entrepreneurship rate than other immigrant groups and U.S. born workers. 

The Myth: Refugees are a political issue

The Truth: Although immigration policy is written and executed by politicians who have varying stances on immigration, refugees are a human rights issue, not a political one. 

The Myth: Most refugees flee to the U.S, Europe, or Australia

The Truth: Most often, refugees will flee to wherever is safe and closest to them first. For land-locked countries this happens on foot, and for coastal countries refugees can take boats across bodies of water in an attempt to enter a safer country. This is evidenced in the fact that 73% of refugees resettle in neighboring countries. The vast majority of refugees from Myanmar are in neighboring Bangladesh and Thailand, the vast majority of Syrian refugees are in neighboring Turkey, and so on. Additionally, 86% of refugees live in developing countries, contrary to the stereotype that most refugees are hosted in wealthy nations. The media tends to highlight the refugees arriving in wealthy countries like the U.S, European countries, and Australia, because these countries have the biggest media outlets. Refugees who get resettled through UNHCR are not able to choose where they are permanently resettled, except for some preference given to a certain country if the refugee being resettled has family already resettled in that country. When UNHCR resettles refugees, they choose a country based on that country’s ability to accommodate a new refugee and on its history of regular refugee resettlement. 

The Myth: Refugees leave their countries to find better jobs

The Truth: A person who leaves their country voluntarily in hopes of finding a better job elsewhere is an immigrant, not a refugee. A refugee is someone who is fleeing violence or persecution, who has reason to believe that their freedom or life would be in danger back home. 


The Myth: Refugees live on handouts from the government in the U.S. and don’t pay taxes

The Truth: Research conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that refugees actually pay back more in taxes than what they receive in benefits—about $21,000 more in the first 20 years in the USA. Refugees do not receive money from the government upon arriving in the U.S. except for medical emergencies or other cases in which a U.S. citizen in need would also receive financial support from the government.

The Myth: Refugees pose a health risk to American citizens

The Truth: Just like anybody else travelling into the U.S, there are refugees who have health problems. Many of these are a result of the lack of medical care that existed in their country of origin or refugee camp, or due to problems they encountered after they fled. Most health problems are addressed by health care services in refugee processing centers before refugees are admitted to the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also closely monitors all refugees in processing centers and prevents the admission of refugees with health conditions that are identified as hazardous to the public. 

The Myth: Refugees are terrorists and criminals

The Truth: Many refugees are actually fleeing terror groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria, ISIS and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and Al-Shabab in Somalia. The refugee screening process for refugees entering the U.S. is rigorous. The refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks involving the National Counterterrorism Center, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Defense Department, the State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security, among other intelligence, security and law-enforcement agencies. The entire process takes approximately 18 to 24 months. Shockingly, the U.S. considers fewer than 1 percent of incoming refugees for residency in the country.

The Myth: Most refugees are single men

The Truth: Globally, there is a pervasive myth that a vast majority of refugees are single men who are looking for work for themselves. In reality, more than half of the refugees entering into Europe are women and children. The number of male refugees globally is about equal to the number of women, and the same goes for the number of refugees under the age of 18 being roughly equal to the number of refugees over the age of 18. Where there is a higher proportion of men to women is in the number of asylum seekers who have not yet received refugee status. It is common for men to undertake the dangerous journey by themselves before their families follow. They can then tell family members, including wives and children, about the journey and provide them with more information. Having a family member already in a host country can often speed up the process, taking some of the risk away from vulnerable people. It also means that asylum seekers have the right to family reunification. 

The Myth: All refugees are Muslim and/or from the Middle East

The Truth: The belief that most refugees come from the Middle East is an extremely European-centric idea of the patterns of forced migration. As of 2020, 68% of all refugees originated from just 5 countries. These are: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar. Only two of those top 5 countries (Syria and Afghanistan) are in the Middle East. The idea that most refugees are Muslim is tied to the fear that refugees coming into the U.S. are terrorists which is a product of Islamophobia and harmful rhetoric about the Islam faith being more violent than other faiths, which is also not true. 

The Myth: Smart phones are not a necessity for refugees

The Truth: People commonly get caught up on an image of refugees that shows them holding smart phones. There seems to be an idea that someone who has a smartphone must be rich, and someone who is rich must not need asylum. There are a couple of issues with this. The first is that not all refugees are poor. There is nothing written in any definition of refugees that requires them to be poor, only that they are fleeing conflict. And conflict can happen anywhere, impacting anyone nearby regardless of socioeconomic class. In fact, it’s commonly observed that people with more wealth and a higher standard of living are more likely to leave an area taken over by conflict. The other issue is the idea that having a smartphone means that someone is rich. Over two thirds of the world’s population have a mobile phone. As globalization has increased the demand for connectivity for work, education, health, banking, etc, there have been many initiatives to get phones to poor communities. For example, there was an economic study that showed that fishermen in small Asian fishing villages increased their revenue significantly with a simple phone that allowed them to make calls to customers as opposed to speaking with them in person. There is also a service called “Facebook Free Basics” that Facebook offers in some of the world’s poorest countries which provides free limited internet services such as news, weather, health information, and Facebook. The idea that all refugees are poor, and the idea that someone with a smartphone can’t be poor are both wrong.


The Myth: There’s nothing I can do to support refugees 

The Truth: The most common way to support refugees is to donate to organizations that know how to help. The largest organizations that support refugees include UNHCR, International Rescue Committee, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International. On a local level, many cities and towns have organizations – often run through churches – that help to sponsor, host, and resettle refugees. 

Some of our favorite organizations at Wear The Peace are:

IRC – Give A Girl A Year Of School 

Africa Relief Fund 

Pure Hands – Yemen Food Support

Launch Good – Refugee Housing 

Pious Projects – Help Syrian Refugees

Palestine Children’s Relief Fund – Medical Support for Palestine

Helping Hand for Relief and Development – Venezuela Relief

Islamic Relief USA – Sponsor an Orphan

Pious Projects – Ethiopia Food Support

Help Hand for Relief and Development – Support for Rohingya Refugees