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World Refugee Month - Concern for Crisis Sparks New Research

posted on: Jun 20, 2016

World Refugee Month - Who Cares?

BY: Kristina Perry/Contributing Writer

WASHINGTON, DC: Every year, the world observes June as World Refugee Month, with June 20th marking international events raising awareness for refugees hosted by the United Nations Refugee Agency. This year, World Refugee Month coincides with Ramadan, and the presumptive end of the presidential primaries. As the nation witnesses its closest and most racially charged election in recent decades, candidates and popular attitudes towards Syrian and other Arab refugees has also experienced heightened scrutiny.

One of the most important topics of the election has been the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States, with political parties and the nation either staunchly supporting resettlement and inclusion efforts, or fighting to effectively ban all Muslims from entering the country.

With the U.S. struggling to place the incoming 10,000 Syrian refugees and rising hate crimes against Muslims and Arabs, the attention on refugee history and struggles this month is more important than ever. There are currently more than 4.5 million Syrian refugees living in five of the conflict neighboring countries, including Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt. Jordan took in more than half a million refugees since the crisis started, and the Syrian refugee population now makes up roughly 10% of the total population. For perspective, the incoming 10,000 refugees represent less than a tenth of a percent of the United States’s population. More than half of Syria’s population is internally displaced, and still seeks a way out of the war torn country, where internal conflict aggravated by ISIL has raged for more than three years.

Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait have offered no resettlement options to Syrian refugees. While among the richest states in the Arab world, none of them officially recognize the legal status of refugees seeking asylum. Donations to the Syrian cause from Gulf country governments collectively exceeds $1 billion, and represent a greater portion of GDP than American donation. Kuwait alone has donated $800 million to refugee aid efforts through the United Nations.

Outside of the Middle East, Germany and Sweden are taking in the largest numbers of refugees, and the most international criticism. After taking in record making numbers of refugees through her open-doors policy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel faced a tough re-election in Germany. Furthermore, a recent study found that 46% of Germans do not want her to stay for another term. Merkel and her party have since revised Germany’s immigration policy to reject applicants from the Balkans, detect and deport fraudulent claimants, and initiated a program to integrate Syrian refugees within three years or deport them. Germany alone has pledged 39,987 places for incoming refugees, roughly 54% of the EU total.

Findings of a recent study presented at the Brookings Institute last week in Washington D.C. assessed the attitudes of Americans towards Arab refugees, and revealed a highly polarized public, with 24 percent of the population strongly supporting accepting refugees, and 24 percent strongly opposing. This poll was done by Shibley Telhami, a Senior Fellow with the Brookings Institute, and examined a range of questions focusing on whether Americans feel the U.S. has a moral obligation to take in refugees, and whether these refugees pose a security threat. In assessing a moral responsibility, or accountability for the role in this crisis, responses were highly divided, with the marginal majority of respondents feeling that the U.S. did not have a moral obligation to respond to refugee crises or admit refugees into the country.

In addition to this disconnect, Shibley’s research exposed a frightening anti-Muslim sentiment amongst participants. When asked to identify what their biggest concern regarding incoming refugees from the Arab world, nearly ten percent of respondents identified that having an increase of Muslims, even if they are peaceful, was their biggest fear. A following question asked participants whether refugees would be welcome in their own communities, with 44% responding negatively.

But there was good news within the research, as well. A significant majority expressed support for refugees, and an oversampling of millennials revealed that people aged 18-34 overwhelmingly support accepting refugees and reject harmful stereotypes tying Arabs to terror.

There was also very little support for expelling refugees already within the US.

In the face of rising discrimination and fear mongering, community establishing and transition groups such as Kentucky Refugee Resettlement Ministries, Multifaith Alliance, United Muslim Relief, Amnesty International, and UNHCR all work to provide refugees with resettlement and relief services.

World Refugee Month is more important than ever, and America’s ultimate response to the refugee issue at large during this election will serve as the litmus test for American values.