A decision to lift a hefty fee that has prevented many Syrians from maintaining legal status in Lebanon is a positive step, Human Rights Watch said today. Yet the decision appears to exclude a number of the most vulnerable refugees.
The new policy, announced last week by General Security, would waive the annual $200 residency fee for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, provided that they registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) before January 1, 2015, or obtained residency through their UNHCR certificate at least once in 2015 or 2016.
“If it’s carried out, the decision to waive residency fees for some refugees will have a real and positive impact for many Syrian families living in Lebanon,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Yet excluding large parts of the refugee population only serves to further marginalize already vulnerable people.”
The policy excludes Syrians not registered with UNHCR, almost 500,000 people by government estimates. On May 6, 2015, UNHCR suspended registration of Syrian refugees in Lebanon at the request of the Lebanese government. General Security also confirmed to Human Rights Watch by phone, on February 13, that the policy excludes registered refugees who renewed their residency through sponsorship by a Lebanese national. General Security also said that the waiver does not apply to Palestinian refugees from Syria.
Human Rights Watch and aid organizations have long called for waiver of residency renewal fees for all Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Lebanon introduced new residency regulations in January 2015 that most refugees have been unable to comply with. Without residency, refugees can be arrested, restricting their movement. This makes it difficult for them to work, send their children to school, or get health care. It has also hindered their ability to register marriages and births, leaving tens of thousands of Syrian children born in Lebanon at risk of statelessness. An inability to work has exacerbated poverty among refugees, leading to increased child labor and early marriages. The lack of legal status has also left refugees vulnerable to a range of abuses, including labor exploitation and sexual abuse, unable to turn to the authorities for protection for fear that police may arrest them for expired residency.
In 2016, Human Rights Watch found that half of the nearly 500,000 Syrian school-age children registered with UNHCR in Lebanon were not getting a formal education, and that lack of residency was a key barrier.
Lebanese authorities have not published any statistics on the number of Syrian refugees without legal status, but the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan, published in January 2017, estimates that 60 percent of those over age 15 lack legal residency, compared with 47 percent in January 2016. At a February 2016 donors conference in London, Lebanon committed to a review of existing regulatory frameworks related to residency conditions and work authorizations for Syrians.
The residency regulations introduced in January 2015 required all Syrians 15 and over to pay an annual $200 renewal fee per person, present valid identification and an entry slip obtained at the border, submit a housing pledge confirming their place of residence, and provide two photographs stamped by a Lebanese local official.
To maintain residency, Syrians not registered with UNHCR have to provide a “pledge of responsibility” signed by a Lebanese national or registered entity to sponsor an individual or family. Human Rights Watch found that some Lebanese nationals charge refugees up to $1,000 for sponsorship and that in many cases, General Security required sponsorship even for refugees registered with UNHCR.
More than 1 million Syrian refugees are registered with UNHCR in Lebanon, although the government estimates that there are 1.5 million Syrians in the country. General Security and aid groups operating in Lebanon should publicize the new policy broadly so that eligible Syrian refugees can benefit from the fee waiver, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch found that General Security offices have applied residency policies inconsistently, including by requiring refugees registered with UNHCR to obtain a sponsor and by requiring Syrians to sign a pledge not to work, even after this requirement was dropped in 2016. Lebanese authorities should ensure that the new fee waiver policy is applied consistently by all General Security offices in Lebanon, Human Rights Watch said.
The residency renewal announcement comes amid troubling public statements about the possible return of refugees, including reports of negotiations between Hezbollah and Syrian opposition forces to return refugees from Lebanon to Syria. This policy risks cementing a category of refugees without residency who would be highly vulnerable to any forced returns. Conditions in Syria do not permit the creation of safe zones and any forcible or coerced return of refugees would be illegal under international law, whether or not the Syrians have residency status or are registered with UNHCR. Refugees are entitled to protection and should not be forced to return to countries where they face persecution.
“Lebanon shouldn’t leave out Syrians who were unable to register with UNHCR or resorted to a Lebanese sponsor to maintain legal status,” Fakih said. “It is in Lebanon’s own interest to ensure that all refugees are able to live legally here without fear of arrest, until such time as conditions in Syria permit their safe return.”
This article was published on HRW's website on February 14, 2017.
Despite mounting evidence of inhumane treatment faced by Eritreans, in and outside Eritrea, the EU is doing all it can to prevent them reaching its shores, says a new report.
The report is based on hundreds of conversations and 106 in-depth testimonies from Eritreans who have fled their country. In MSF’s medical projects in Libya, Ethiopia and on its rescue boats in the Mediterranean, Eritreans arrive almost every day with wounds, heavy scarring and other medical conditions, including severe psychological illnesses, that are consistent with their testimonies.
Every Eritrean interviewed by MSF teams on its search and rescue vessels in the Mediterranean Sea reports being either a direct victim or a witness to severe levels of violence, as well as being held in captivity of some kind. More than half report having witnessed the deaths of fellow refugees, asylum seekers or migrants, most often as the result of violence.
Every Eritrean woman interviewed has either directly experienced or knows someone who has experienced sexual violence, including rape, often inflicted by multiple perpetrators.
It is illegal for Eritreans to leave the country without an exit visa, which are notoriously difficult to obtain. Those who are able to escape face extended periods in refugee camps in neighbouring Sudan and Ethiopia; physical, psychological and sexual violence; arbitrary detention and deportations in Libya; and dangerous sea crossings to Europe – a crossing which claimed the lives of at least 4,500 people in 2016 alone.
Rather than developing safe and legal routes for those seeking international protection, the EU is increasingly collaborating with Eritrea, Libya, Sudan and Ethiopia to prevent Eritreans from leaving Eritrea and transiting through these countries to reach Europe.
The EU’s attempts to stem migration through strengthening national borders and bolstering detention facilities outside its borders leave people no choice but to pay smugglers to get them past checkpoints, across borders, through fences, out of prisons and ultimately onto boats on the Mediterranean Sea.
Vickie Hawkins, MSF UK Executive Director: “It is vital that the UK government provides channels to safety for Eritreans, and indeed all people fleeing conflict and persecution. Efforts to manage migration should not externalise border controls to unsafe countries - wherever they may be.
"Given the UK Prime Minister’s commitment to lead a ‘truly global Britain which reaches beyond Europe’, the UK must lead by example in ensuring vulnerable people who are in need of asylum are able to seek it safely. MSF insists that people seeking protection must not be abandoned or left trapped in unsafe places, with no option but to risk their lives on a perilous journey.
"Containment is not the answer; UK policies should never trap or force people into danger. Appallingly, current policies do just that”.
This article was published on One World News' website on February 27, 2017.
The MSF report is available below.
Asylum seekers' applications doomed to fail after visa deadline changes, says refugee support service
By Chloe Hart
The Immigration Department has cut the length of time asylum seekers have to apply for protection visas from one year to 60 days which could deny up to 11,000 people the ability to claim asylum.
Those waiting for a lawyer to help them with their visa application have received letters from the department informing them of the new deadline.
The change could result in many losing their right to protection or bridging visas as well as their right to work and access health and welfare services.
The shortened deadline has been described by The Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS) as "underhanded", saying it was "neglecting" some of the most persecuted people in the world.
In 2013 the Federal Government cut funding for immigration and legal assistance for people who arrive by boat and plane and in response RACS drop-in centres were set up to fill the gap.
Lawyers at the centres offer pro-bono assistance on thousands of applications.
"RACS has been providing free legal service to people through night-time clinics run by volunteers and we have a massive waiting list of currently 1,800 people [in Sydney] waiting up to one year for assistance," said RACS executive director Tanya Jackson-Vaughan.
"We were promised by the Department of Immigration that people on our waiting list wouldn't be threatened or coerced in anyway to apply without legal assistance.
"We have people fleeing places like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq — cities that have been destroyed, places we see in the news every day where women are raped, men are tortured. We know what they are fleeing from. We see it daily."
Applications filled in without legal help doomed: lawyersAbout 11,000 people are waiting to apply and have been sent letters explaining that if they do not apply within two months their status resolution support service payments will be cut, Ms Jackson-Vaughan said.
"[It is] ultimately their bridging visa which then endangers their right to seek asylum [and] their right to work and health care," she said.
"We have young families with children in this situation who will end up starving and homeless .
Lawyers say most applicants do not speak English and if the applications are rushed or filled in without legal assistance they are doomed to fail.
"The forms are in English and require you to list everywhere you have ever lived and worked, why you fled your country and why you fear persecution.
These are legal definitions and hard to explain in your own language let alone [something other than] English," Ms Jackson-Vaughan said.
"Expecting people who have no legal background [and] are often traumatised and have memory deprivation [to do this]… it's unreasonable, and too challenging when it takes a lawyer 10 to 15 hours to assist one person."
Decision detrimental to the already vulnerable: RACSRACS is calling for the Government to stop sending the letters and comply with its promise to give people the right to seek asylum and welfare payments.
The Refugee Council of Australia said further discrimination against asylum seekers could prove dire.
"It's a tragedy ad hoc decisions are being made by the Turnbull Government, we don't know what will happen to these very vulnerable people who've been kept trapped in limbo for many years now," said council spokesman Tim O'Connor.
"We've seen high rates of suicide among this group and we are very concerned these latest decisions the Turnbull Government has made will increase that psychological duress these people are under and that suicide rate may increase as a result.
"It's particularly cruel the Turnbull Government is again changing the rules.
There needs to be a process but this process has been clear and now it's being changed again.
In a written statement the Immigration Department said "resolving the status of illegal maritime arrivals in Australia is a key priority and all legacy cases have been invited to apply for temporary protection visas (TPV) or safe haven enterprise visas (SHEV)".
"Letters are being sent to those who have not made an application for either a TPV or SHEV and failure to apply may affect some of the support services they receive."
But RACS says the Government's demands were unrealistic and its service was at breaking point.
"[The staff] are now at their wits' end — we don't know how we will manage the people waiting for our assistance by the deadline of November 2017."
This article was published on ABC News' website on February 26, 2017.
By Ben Doherty
Australia’s offshore immigration detention regime could constitute a crime against humanity, a petition before the International Criminal Court from a coalition of legal experts has alleged.
On Monday morning, GMT, a 108-page legal submission from the Global Legal Action Network (Glan) and the Stanford International Human Rights Clinic was submitted to the court, detailing what the network describes as the “harrowing practices of the Australian state and corporations towards asylum seekers”. The petition submits the office of the prosecutor of the ICC should open an investigation into possible “crimes against humanity committed by individuals and corporate actors”.
“As recent leaks reveal, these privatised facilities entail long-term detention in inhumane conditions, often including physical and sexual abuse of adults and children,” Glan said in a statement.
“The conditions and resulting hopelessness have caused what experts describe as ‘epidemic levels’ of self-harm among those held on these islands. Based on original research, the communication is the most comprehensive submission on crimes against humanity perpetrated outside of context of war.”
Heads of government and other state officials are not immune from prosecution by the ICC, but the prosecution of an Australian government official – either sitting or retired – would be unprecedented.
The prosecutor would need to be convinced Australia’s crimes constituted “a widespread or systematic attackdirected against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack”.
The operation of the International Criminal Court is governed by the Rome Statute, to which Australia, which controls the offshore detention regimes on Nauru and Manus, is a party.
Article 7 of the Rome Statute defines a crime against humanity as, among nine other offences, “deportation or forcible transfer of populations; imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law”.
Glan is a non-profit legal organisation, based in London and Dublin, pursuing legal actions to address human rights violations in the global south.
This is an excerpt of an article published on The Guardian's website published on February 13, 2017.
Alfa Fellow, Europe and Central Asia Division
Every child in Russia has the right to an education. Russia’s Constitution says so, the federal law on education says so, and Russia’s obligations under international law say so.
Despite this, children of asylum seekers, undocumented migrants, and foreign citizens unable to provide proof of residence are being turned away and expelled from schools in and around Moscow.
In January 2014, the Ministry of Education and Science issued an ambiguously worded order, known as decree 32. Whilst stating the only reason for denying a school place can be due to a lack of space, it also details that proof of registration is needed for foreign children. Some – including the Moscow Department of Education, some local authorities, and some schools – have exploited this ambiguity to bar from school any child who lacks proof of residency.
But this interpretation is wrong, as Russia’s Supreme Court made clear in a decision in 2015 – there is no such requirement.
Only direct intervention by human rights defenders seems to be able to change the mind of resolute headmasters. In Moscow, Civic Assistance Committee, a leading independent Russian rights group that protects the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, plays an active role providing affected families informational and legal support. Since 2014, 82 families have approached Civic Assistance with complaints of schools refusing their children without registration of residence – 76 were resolved through the group’s efforts. The remaining families are either receiving legal help from Civic Assistance to overturn the decision in the courts or have left Russia.
The experience of one family from Afghanistan is typical. When they first tried to enroll their daughter, Samira, into school in Moscow, they were refused a place due to a lack of registration. Only through the direct intervention of Konstantin Troitskiy, an activist with Civic Assistance, who went in person to explain the illegality of the situation, was the headmaster persuaded to take her. “Without Konstantin’s help there is no way she would have been accepted,” Samira’s father told me. Unfortunately, their ordeal is not yet over. A change in headmaster and a fresh demand for proof of registration now means that Samira once again faces the possibility she’ll be excluded from an education.
This has to stop. Russian authorities should send an unequivocal message to school officials at all levels that proof of registration is not a requirement and cannot be used as an excuse for denying children access to education.
This article was published on HRW's website on February 9, 2017.
AS THE Trump administration fought in court to revive its temporary ban on entry by refugees as well as travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries, the president persisted in perversely suggesting that the judicial branch will be responsible for any terrorist attack carried out by what he portrayed as the violent hordes clamoring to enter the country.
By conflating a dangerous fiction about immigrants with blatant disrespect for an equal branch of government, President Trump fans the xenophobic flames he did so much to ignite during the presidential campaign. “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril,” he tweetedover the weekend, after a ruling by U.S. District Judge James L. Robart in Seattle, who was nominated to the court by President George W. Bush. “If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”
The president’s calumny and travel ban have been denounced by an array of diplomatic and national security experts, not least former secretaries of state John F. Kerry and Madeleine Albright, who made the point, in a court filing, that the order would endanger U.S. troops and boost the Islamic State’s recruitment efforts.
Amid the furor, it is critical to remember that in recent decades the United States has admitted hundreds of thousands of refugees from the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, Iraq, Burma and elsewhere — never with ironclad assurances that those immigrants would love America or its values, though in many cases they clearly did.
Mr. Trump and his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, pledge “extreme vetting” of new immigrants, especially refugees, which would somehow assure their patriotism and adherence to U.S. law as a condition of admission to this country.
It makes sense to scrutinize immigrants, particularly those from terrorism-prone regions, which is exactly what the current rigorous process does by subjecting applicants to multiple security, biometric, document and data checks by an alphabet soup of U.S. agencies. For refugees, the screening is painstaking, often lasting up to two years and involving face-to-face interviews in which factual discrepancies can mean rejection. Even tighter screening may be possible, particularly of social media accounts, although aliases, multiple languages and sarcasm could be pitfalls.
Even if the courts uphold its actions, it is critical that the administration not use the inevitable imperfections of any vetting process as a pretext to ban refugees for more than the 120-day period covered by the Jan. 27 order. Already, Mr. Trump has slashed the current fiscal-year target for refugee admissions to 50,000, from 110,000.
That’s a trickle when measured against the United States’ traditional role as a beacon to those fleeing violence and tyranny, and against global demand. The United Nations counts some 16 million refugees (excluding Palestinians); more than half are children . By far the largest number, nearly 5 million , are Syrians, who are barred indefinitely under Mr. Trump’s order.
“These are not Jeffersonian democrats,” sneered Mr. Bannon, referring to Muslim immigrants who entered Europe. In 2015, he asked, “Why even let ’em in?”
Similar remarks were made a century ago about immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Germany and Eastern Europe, then widely seen as unschooled, unwashed and, often, violent. No one would ask now, “Why did we even let ’em in?”
This editorial was published on The Washington Post's website on February 6, 2017.
Palestinians in Iraq face an uncertain future with little hope of escaping life as stateless refugees.
Claire Thomas- Al Jazeera
Erbil, Iraq - Inside Baharka IDP Camp, a government-run refugee camp that provides emergency shelter for over 4,000 internally displaced people, 18 Palestinian families live in a cluster of makeshift homes. Located near the Kurdish city of Erbil, the camp is managed by the Barzani Charity Foundation and the Erbil Refugee Council.
Born and raised in Baghdad, 30-year-old Palestinian Yahia Mahmoud has lived in Baharka camp for over two years. Without permission to work, travel or build a life as a citizen, and with nowhere else to go, Mahmoud and his family, like other Palestinian refugees in Iraq, are trapped in a cycle of isolation, discrimination and continual displacement.
For this family, as is the case for many Palestinians, their identity as stateless refugees is passed down from generation to generation.
Mahmoud's parents were also born as refugees in Iraq. His grandfather fled Palestine during the exodus of 1948, known as the Nakba, when 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were expelled from their homes.
Mahmoud spent most of his childhood in refugee camps surrounding Baghdad. After being continually displaced throughout his life, most recently fleeing from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, known as ISIS) fighters in Ramadi, he now lives in Baharka camp with his wife and two children, together with his brother and other relatives.
In August 2016, Mahmoud's mother, Hudda Awad, died from cancer at the age of 57. For four months, she had been unable to continue with her chemotherapy in Iraq; her son believes that she was denied the treatment in part because of her ethnicity. "They did not give it to her because it cost a lot of money and also because we are Arabs, not Kurds," he says.
For Mahmoud and his family, their options are limited. Desperate to provide a brighter and safer future for his children, Mahmoud hopes of someday escaping Iraq in search of the opportunity to build a better life for him and his family as citizens, and not as refugees.
This article was published on Al Jazeera's website on February 5,2017.
Niniek Karmini - Associated Press
Asylum seekers stranded for years in Indonesia have rallied in the capital urging the UN refugee agency to speed up their resettlement in third countries.
Dozens of people from war-torn nations including Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia called on the UNHCR to accelerate their resettlement on Monday, saying they could no longer bear to live in limbo and without jobs.
They waved banners reading "Refugees are human" and "Save us" during the rally at the refugee agency's office in Jakarta. Some chanted "Process, process!"
"Waiting for more than four years here without resettlement is absolutely terrible," said 19-year-old protester Mahdi Rezaee from Afghanistan, where scores of ethnic Hazaras like himself have been captured, tortured and killed by Islamic militants.
Indonesia is home to nearly 14,000 men, women and children seeking resettlement in other countries, according to the UNHCR.
About 7500 have been recognised as refugees, giving them the prized UN card that inches them closer to realising their dreams of a better life.
But last year, just 610 were resettled in other countries such as the United States, Canada, Germany and New Zealand.
Another protester, 30-year-old Mohammed Akbar, who has held a UN refugee card for three years, said he is struggling to feed his family and still does not know when he will be resettled to another country.
Indonesia, a poor country of more than 250 million people, is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, and the government does not allow asylum seekers to work or have access to schools and public hospitals.
By banning refugees from the United States, Donald Trump isn’t just denying them an opportunity. He’s harming the American economy.
BY PHILIPPE LEGRAIN
FEBRUARY 3, 2017
President Donald Trump’s executive order halting refugee resettlement from around the world and barring visitors from seven mostly Muslim countries is wrong on many levels. It is cruel, xenophobic, and arguably unconstitutional. And it wouldn’t have prevented 9/11 or saved the lives of the 94 people killed on American soil by Islamist extremists since then, because none of the terrorists responsible for those atrocities were refugees or, indeed, from those seven countries. But in addition to being morally wrong, it’s economically harmful, because refugees make a big contribution to the United States, as do people originating from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, and Somalia.
Refugees are a tiny proportion of the U.S. population — some 3.3 million have been admitted since 1975 — but they have had an outsized impact. Google co-founder Sergey Brin was a child refugee from the Soviet Union; Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is now America’s second-most valuable firm, with a market capitalization of $553 billion. WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum and PayPal co-founder Max Levchin were refugees from Ukraine. The late Andy Grove, who helped start and was later CEO of Intel, fled from communist Hungary. So, too, did hedge-fund manager and philanthropist George Soros; Thomas Peterffy, the founder of Interactive Brokers Group; and Steven Udvar-Hazy, the founder of Air Lease Corp.
Yet nobody could have guessed when they arrived in the United States that those refugees would be so successful. Had they been denied entry, nobody would have realized the opportunity that America had missed. So just imagine what some of the brave Syrians fleeing the barbarism of the Islamic State, President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime, and the bombing raids ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin could go on to achieve in the United States. After all, the biological father of the late Steve Jobs, the co-founder and legendary CEO of Apple, America’s most valuable company, was a Syrian who fled his country for political reasons.
People originating from the seven countries on Trump’s blacklist already have contributed a lot to America. eBay was founded by an Iranian-American, Pierre Omidyar. Its market capitalization of $36.1 billion dwarfs the value of Trump’s unlisted business holdings, while Omidyar’s self-made $8.2 billion fortune is more than twice as big as Trump’s partly inherited one. Oracle Corp., a software giant worth $162.2 billion, was co-founded by the late Bob Miner, who was also Iranian-American. While the communities from the other countries are much smaller and generally more recent, one notable Somali-American is author and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an outspoken critic of both Islamic extremism and Trump’s anti-Muslim policies.
Of course, not all refugees and immigrants turn out to be exceptionally successful. But prejudice is a poor predictor of how they will fare. When Vietnamese “boat people” fled their country in the late 1970s and sought refuge elsewhere, they were seen as undesirable and often turned away. Eventually, many were allowed to settle in America. Most arrived speaking little or no English, with few assets or relevant job skills.
Yet Vietnamese refugees in the United States are now more likely to be employed than people born in America and have higher average incomes.
They have also played a key role in building trade and investment links with Vietnam. One notable entrepreneur is David Tran, who founded Huy Fong Foods. Its main product is Sriracha chili sauce, that big red bottle you see in every Vietnamese restaurant. Most of what he makes is exported to Asia, something that Trump ought to approve of, given his obsession with America’s trade balance.
Refugees contribute to the economy in many ways: as workers, entrepreneurs, innovators, taxpayers, consumers, and investors. Their efforts can help create jobs; raise the productivity and wages of American workers; increase capital returns; stimulate international trade and investment; and boost innovation, enterprise, and growth.
Some do low-skilled jobs that Americans spurn, such as working on farms, cleaning offices, and caring for the elderly. Contrary to fears that they steal jobs, studies show that refugees enable Americans to do better-paying jobs that they prefer.
Higher-skilled refugees — and their highly educated children — provide valuable talent and boost the productivity and wages of Americans with complementary skills. For instance, Syrian nurses can help American doctors provide better care to more patients. Some 28 percent of refugees have a bachelor’s or advanced degree, the same proportion as people born in the United States. Among the immigrants on Trump’s banned list, those from Iran, Libya, Syria, and Sudan are more likely to have a degree than the U.S. average. Many work for leading U.S. businesses, notably in the technology sector, that are now up in arms about the travel ban.
Whatever their skill level, refugees tend to be highly motivated and work hard to rebuild their lives. At Chobani, the company that makes America’s leading brand of Greek yogurt, three in 10 employees are refugees. Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya doesn’t just employ them to do good; it also turns out to be good for the bottom line. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s admirable announcement that the company plans to hire 10,000 refugees worldwide in the next five years is likely to be financially rewarding, too.
Enterprising refugees start businesses that create wealth, employ locals, boost growth, and stimulate trade and investment. Like migration itself, starting a business is a risky venture that takes hard work to make it pay off. For those who arrive in America without contacts or a conventional career, it is a natural way to get ahead. A study by the Kauffman Foundation found that in 2012, immigrants to the United States were almost twice as likely to start businesses as people born in America.
Last but not least, newcomers and their children can help spark new ideas and technologies that make all Americans better off. People uprooted from one culture and exposed to another tend to be more creative. Moreover, groups with diverse perspectives and experiences — such as refugees and people born in the United States sparking off each other — tend to outperform like-minded experts at problem solving, which is what most work these days consists of.
Overall, refugees have a higher employment rate than people born in America. While Iraqis and Somalis have lower employment rates, they are mostly recent arrivals, and employment rates tend to rise sharply over time. Refugees who have been in the United States for 20 or more years also have higher median household incomes than people born in America.
A study by Kalena Cortes of Texas A&M University found that among immigrants who arrived in the United States between 1975 and 1980, refugees integrated faster than “economic migrants.” Whereas refugees earned 6 percent less and worked 14 percent fewer hours than economic migrants in 1980, by 1990 they were earning 20 percent more and working 4 percent more hours, notably because in general they improved their English, skills, and education faster over that period.
Of course, welcoming refugees costs money upfront. But it’s a drop in the ocean: Out of the $3.3 trillion federal budget in fiscal year 2015, the budget for the refugee resettlement program was $609 million. That money tends to be spent on local goods and services, benefiting businesses and creating jobs. And like providing public education to American teenagers, it’s an investment that yields further dividends once refugees start working.
In fact, investing one dollar in helping refugees get started can yield nearly two dollars in economic benefits within five years. That’s the key finding of my recent study for OPEN, an international think tank focused on refugee and other openness issues that I founded, and the Tent Foundation, whose mission is to help forcibly displaced people.
A study of greater Cleveland found that while $4.8 million was spent on refugee services in 2012, spending by refugees, refugee-owned businesses, and refugee service organizations boosted the local economy by $48 million, creating 650 jobs and providing $2.7 million in tax revenues to local and state governments.
Refugees’ reliance on public assistance declines sharply over time, although it tends to remain higher than the general population. Even so, refugees tend to be net contributors to public finances over their lifetimes: Two-thirds of new arrivals are of working age (and thus schooled abroad), on average they are in their mid-20s (and thus have a full working life ahead of them), and their taxes help service the huge public debt incurred by the existing U.S. population.
The United States was founded by refugees: The Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower in 1620 were fleeing persecution in England. Continuing to welcome refugees and immigrants of all faiths — and none — is not just morally right and in keeping with America’s long humanitarian tradition. It is vital for the future economic success of all Americans.
This article was published on Foreign Policy's website on February 3rd 2017.