Don’t fear refugees like me

To the public who is still skeptical of the presence of refugees, I say ‘don’t be afraid’.

Yara al-Wazir
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There has been a strong shift in the public narrative towards how the influx of refugees should be handled ever since the tragic image of Aylan Kurdi shocked the world.

It is horrific that hundreds of people have had to die for humanity to realize that its priorities should lie in saving people rather than letting them perish. And the deaths were allowed to continue because refugees are feared.


That fear primarily comes from the economic and social implications refugees are perceived to have. Yet as a permanent resident of Europe, I have no issues with refugees coming onto my adoptive land, because I am a third-generation Palestinian refugee myself. Europe has not always been my adoptive home, and it probably won’t be my last home either. To the public who is still skeptical of the presence of refugees, I say ‘don’t be afraid’.

Don’t fear us for being unlucky

The simple difference between a refugee and a citizen of an EU-member country is luck. Refugees are unlucky to be born into a country that is currently going through a war, and will inevitably take years to recover. Refugees are simply unlucky for having legislation put in place against them that restricts their movements. Refugees are unlucky that many members of the public are not on their side. What makes my legal status in the UK different is luck as well.

I feel compelled to point out what families like mine have contributed to the host economies.

Yara al-Wazir

But life and death should not boil down to luck. So don’t fear the presence of refugees in a host country, and do not blame them for being unlucky. If anyone was in their situation and had figured out a way to get out, there is no doubt that they will do whatever it takes to survive.

Through survival, however, refugees make vast contributions to the economies of their host countries. While I am forever indebted to the countries that hosted my grandparents and spent millions of dollars in aid to millions of Palestinian refugees, I also feel compelled to point out what families like mine have contributed to their host economies.

Returning the favor of saving lives

The running stereotype of Palestinian refugees that have escaped the life of refugee camps is that it is a community made of doctors and engineers. Indeed, the Association of Palestinian Doctors is the second largest in the Arab world. Sheikh Salem Al-Sabah, former Emir of Kuwait, described Palestinian refugees as “hardworking… Among them is the best surgeon, the best doctor, and the best administrator."

The case-in-point is that refugees do not hold back on returning the favor by training to become quick-thinking doctors who save lives.

Employable skills

Unemployment in the Middle East is a topic of its own – the region has the highest rate of youth unemployment in the world. The truth of the matter is that while there is indeed a shortage of jobs, there is also a shortage of skills, as expressed in a joint report by Silatech and Gallup.

What refugees have are the habits that are highly sought after by employers. By nature, refugees have been forced to be adaptable, multi-lingual, quick on their feet, and with a good attention to detail. The repercussions of missing a miniscule detail on a refugee form are tremendous, and this is reflected in their day-to-day lives as well.

Whether refuges make their way to the Middle East or to Europe, the skills they have are valuable to whichever country takes them in, and are yet another reason for them to be welcomed.

Fear is understandable, but I urge that it be an initial reaction, and not a true conviction. If the circumstances were different, the odds are that refugees would choose to remain in their houses and keep their jobs. If the situation was reversed, and your house was the one under attack, what would you do?

Yara al-Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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