The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Standing up for refugees: The time is now

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Omar* (27 years old), and his 2-year-old son. From Hassaka, Syria. (Photo: Pablo Tosco / Oxfam)

Ahead of the first presidential debate, a call for common sense and American values.

Today, more people in the world are displaced from their homes than at any time since the Second World War. Though many of the images and discussion in our news pages and social media feeds concern refugees fleeing to Europe, most refugees are actually hosted by poor countries that are struggling to meet the needs of their own people. In fact, the six wealthiest countries in the world (including the United States, which is the wealthiest) host less than ten percent of the world’s refugees. By contrast, half of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers are hosted in Jordan, Turkey, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Pakistan, Lebanon, and South Africa. Together, these countries account for just 2 percent of the world’s GDP.

The growing urgency for wealthy countries, like the United States, to share more of the responsibility for welcoming refugees has become a central issue in this year’s Presidential election. Oxfam insists that the US can and should safely resettle 200,000 refugees each year, and we have promoted that view with members of both major parties and Presidential candidates.

In addition to arguing for this specific policy, we are also calling on candidates to refrain from and condemn xenophobic and racist description of refugees and blatantly false descriptions of US resettlement procedures.

Central Americans crossing the US border with Mexico, many of whom are children seeking protection from deadly violence and persecution, are not “rapists” or “criminals.” Similarly, Muslim refugees seeking safety and survival should not be dehumanized and falsely branded as violent threats to our communities; many have endured and fled horrific terror.

The refugee resettlement program has been maligned as insufficiently stringent, though its critics know well that it is the most robust screening process applied to any group of immigrants to the US. This sort of rhetoric and knowing falsehoods not only discourage a measured and compassionate approach to handling the refugee challenge, but degrade entire ethnic and national groups. They forsake America’s most profound ideals. Until this election cycle, these dangerous ideas were rightly marginalized as repugnant by Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike. Now such views are, tragically, being “normalized.”

In this context, silence is not an option. The Presidential debate on Monday presents an opportunity to speak out in support of more refugees being welcomed into the US and call on candidates to uphold our American ideals of tolerance and compassion. Oxfam and our supporters will be making our voices heard through all channels in real time during the debate and the weeks to come. Join us.

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