Fear vs Empathy: Response to Refugee Crisis

Last year, the UNHCR declared an unprecedented 65.3 million displaced people. Nearly 21.3 million refugees were recorded. Over half were children.

Security fears have seen restrictive refugee and immigrant policies from several countries, and support for political parties pushing such policies. But this hasn’t stopped communities around the world from welcoming refugees, and warning against misinformation.

Companies like Airbnb have offered accommodation for stranded refugees, and Canada has offered support, claiming diversity is a strength.

Suzanne Akhras is the founder of the Syrian Community Network in the USA, and she said resettlement is hard enough, and that fear-mongering makes it worse.

“It worries [Syrian refugees], it upsets them greatly,” Ms Akhras said.

“Because they feel like 'we escaped this terrible regime, we don't want to go somewhere else where we are labelled as the extremists, as the terrorists',” she said.

“They want to go somewhere they can live their life in peace."

Her organization does cultural sensitivity training, and she believes immigrants have much to offer their new homes.

“It's going to be a difficult transition, let's not pretend it's not hard,” Ms Akrhas said.

“It's going to be very difficult, but I think in time they will be the ones who will re-invigorate, I think, the economy.

“Certainly in the north side of Chicago there are so many refugees, and right now - in the last ten years - there has been a boom to that part of the city because there's refugees from all over the world living there. Iraqis, Somalis, Bhutanese, Vietnamese - so that area is very diverse, and doing very well now. You know, all these businesses booming.

“So I think Syrians will come with some innovations, some ideas - and I am sure down the line we will hear of a Hummus brand that was started by a Syrian - a Syrian refugee.”

When it comes to the global refugee crisis, individuals and governments are torn between fear and empathy. However, for peace to flourish, experts say avoiding stereotyping is important, and recognizing refugees as individuals, fleeing war and terror, is crucial.

Cover Photo: Canadian Prime minister Justin Trudeau welcomes refugees. Courtesy of Government of Canada.

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