Why should we resettle refugees?

Carys Mair Thomas outlines why Wales should do more to take in refugees.

Rich countries across the world have resettled only a tiny fraction of the five million Syrian refugees forced to flee unimaginable terror and violence.  As part of the United Kingdom, Wales falls among those rich countries.  

Many of us will find this description difficult to fathom, when one in four of us face our own daily struggle to put food on the table. Why resettle refugees when a job in today’s Wales is no guarantee that you’ll keep the wolf from the door yourself? Surely Wales has enough to contend with?  

These are serious questions. Poverty levels in Wales have remained unchanged for a decade and we know food bank usage is disproportionately high here, compared to other regions across the UK. So why welcome more people with open arms?

There is both an economic and moral argument to be made.

But, first, let’s look at the numbers. Here in Wales, Oxfam Cymru is calling for the resettlement of approximately 724 vulnerable people by the end of this year. This is based on Oxfam’s Fair Share analysis, which takes into account the economic performance of each rich country that has signed the UN Refugee Convention (UNHCR). So this is not a number fashioned out of thin air, but based on the UK’s Gross National Income. Consequently, the UK should resettle 23,982 people by the end of this year, with further calculations revealing Wales’s Fair Share to be 724 people – fewer than 10 families per local authority.

Last year, all 22 local authorities in Wales pledged to welcome vulnerable families from Syria to their communities, yet official figures confirm only five have done so, with 78 people arriving in Wales between October 2015 and March 2016.

Why take action? Ultimately, they have a lot to offer.

Refugees arriving here will be able to contribute to society, as has been proven time and again, throughout history. The people of Syria are known to be skilled and highly trained, and wherever they settle, they are likely to make a huge contribution to the economy until it is safe for them to return home.

Refugees do not choose to be refugees. They’re just like you and me: with drive and ambition, with hopes and dreams. To be left to languish in refugee camps in Syria and neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan, robs us all of their full potential. Consider Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs: the son of a Syrian immigrant. How different would our lives be without his vast contribution?

Similarly, others like Bob Marley and Salvador Dali contributed to the arts and culture of their new homes. In September, Cardiff will be transformed into a ‘City of the Unexpected’ to celebrate the centenary of ‘one of its most well-known sons’. Roald Dahl was born to Norwegian parents and lived most of his life in England, and yet we have fully embraced him as one of our own, a real Welshman.

Norway, with a population of just over five million, has far exceeded expectations and resettled 260% of its Fair Share: 3,455 Syrian refugees. If one of the world’s ‘happiest’ countries, known for its strong economy sees the benefit to welcoming Syrian refugees, then why shouldn’t we?

Alongside all of this lies a moral imperative.

Take a moment to consider the circumstances facing these families. Their homes, schools and hospitals have been bombed beyond all recognition. They have seen family killed in horrific chemical attacks. They don’t want to leave their home, but if they stay they will almost certainly die.

What would you do?  Would you stay or would you gather your family and run?  If you were in a refugee camp, how would you feel watching your children grow up with no books and no education? Would you stay there or would you dream of escape?  Would you look to start over elsewhere?  

Most of the 4 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt live in refugee camps and see no prospect of returning home in the near future. Worldwide, more than 5,400 people lost their lives during 2015 making treacherous journeys, with many more deaths likely to have gone unrecorded. If countries like Wales participate in the established resettlement schemes, families will be brought directly from the camps, and won’t have to venture on life-threatening journeys.

Let’s meet our fair share. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because refugees are also ordinary and extraordinary people, brimming with untapped potential that is likely to be of huge benefit to both Wales and the world.

Carys Mair Thomas is the Interim Head of Oxfam Cymru.

6 thoughts on “Why should we resettle refugees?

  1. There is nothing to add to the moral case of this article; one interesting additional point is that some of the existing Syrian refugee population who have fled from ISIS have actually “worked” (ie volunteered) in support of anti-extremism programmes – and frankly it’s difficult to think of more credible witnesses against ISIS than those who have directly seen their work.

  2. This worthy article has elicited one comment. Most of the ;ast half-dozen articles have attracted no comments at all. Is the summer making us torpid or has the new format and merger of Clickon with the IWA website resulted in a drop of correspondence? While many of we responders are no doubt predictable and a few have a tendency to harp on the same theme whatever the occasion, I enjoy the commentary as much as the articles and quite often someone well-informed enriches a debate. It would be a shame to lose the forum and I humbly ask IWA to review the format in a few months’ time to ensure it attracts as much civilized debate as possible

  3. A passionate article which raises as many questions as it answers.

    I agree that we have a moral responsibility to help the dispossessed of Syria. We have to ask ourselves how we can do that most effectively – resettling a small proportion of those in refugees camps in western countries is not necessarily the best way, though it is perhaps the easiest way of making ourselves feel good. How will those to be resettled be chosen? Those with the most to offer us? But if we take only those who are likely to flourish here we cream off the people Syria most needs to rebuild its future. They would put down roots here, making it cruel to expect them to return to Syria when the time came. Or perhaps those in greatest need? But they are the ones most likely to need a great deal of emotional and practical support. And so on. Also, where will they go? It’s all very well to say that we’re looking at fewer than 10 families per local authority, but is that what is envisaged? That each local authority will take 7 or 8 or 9 families and (presumably) spread them around its area? That’s a recipe for social isolation. Really they should all be located in one or two places where they can support each other, but that might be politically difficult and could make integration harder.

    The economic argument strikes me as a red herring at best, at worst deeply unwise. It would be a really bad outcome if refugees were accepted because they would boost the economy, only for them visibly to fail to do so. That would make it much harder to argue for refugees in the future, and be a major setback for those who want a sustainable, humane refugee policy. This (Canadian) article suggests that things are nowhere near as clear-cut as Ms Thomas implies: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/needs-of-some-syrian-refugees-higher-than-expected-analysis-finds/article28531628/.

    A couple of fairly minor points. If you use a definition of poverty which links it to the median income it becomes a function of distribution, and not of wealth. By that measure poverty in the UK has increased over the last fifty years, which is obviously not true. As for Wales being a “rich” country, the South West & Valleys is poorer than Estonia these days, according to Eurostat data.

    Incidentally I don’t see that the odd trio of Dahl, Dali and Marley has any relevance at all to this debate. Dahl was indistinguishable from a posh Englishman, and Dali and Marley each spent just a couple of years in London, after their careers were established. They could hardly have had less in common with refugees.

  4. Hi R. Tredwyn,

    Thanks for raising this point.

    In terms of comments we don’t seem to have had a drop off but I’ll monitor this over the next couple of weeks. As you can no doubt see we’ve tried to make the format of this new site as similar to the old site as possible, while updating some of the more clunky elements.

    We’re keeping an eye on our analytics and making sure that there’s no difficulty for users of the site, but if there are any problems then do please let me know.



  5. Thanks to all for your comments.

    Oxfam Cymru absolutely believes that supporting and resettling Syrian refugees is first and foremost the right thing to do.

    But it looks like the moral argument is failing to bring about an urgency to this work, evidenced by the low numbers currently on record as having been resettled in Wales. The main argument we face is that we are a poor country, with too many of us reliant on food banks and on waiting lists for social housing etc. Unfortunately, for many, these circumstances trump the moral argument.

    The Prime Minister has committed to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020, through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. Families are being taken directly from camps in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, based on vulnerability. Unfortunately, other than the usual asylum process, it is the only official route to resettle Syrian families. Facilitated by the Home Office, this scheme pays for those resettled in Wales and Ceredigion Leader Ellen ap Gwynn has herself publicly stated that this means that they are not taking from local resources.

    “Fewer than 10 families per LA” is just a useful device to indicate the very small numbers that we’re talking about. Oxfam is not suggesting that each LA must absolutely commit to re-home 10 families; clearly there are LAs who are far more experienced in resettlement than others and would take more than that.

    Alongside groups unpersuaded by the moral argument, are those who absolutely want to do something. There is public appetite to get involved and LAs should respond accordingly. Only yesterday we were approached by a member of the public from Pembrokeshire who wanted to know how she could take in a refugee herself.

    It appears that resettling vulnerable families from Syria is not an altogether altruistic act. A person can be both vulnerable and skilled. And children growing up in camps without an education is a waste. This is not a new argument. And they need not be the next Steve Jobs. Millions of ordinary and extraordinary adults and children are currently in camps who could make a real contribution to society.

    Ultimately refugees have the potential to enrich our communities, and we should provide opportunities for them to flourish while they are here, but also in order to help them return home, better skilled, to rebuild their communities from which they have been forced to flee. See here for good practice identified by OECD: http://www.oecd.org/els/mig/Making-Integration-Work-Refugees-and-others-in-need-of-protection-flyer-web.pdf

    The admittedly random Salvador Dali and Bob Marley are of course just that – random. Random and well-known. The point to be made is that the world would not be the same without the impact of various notable individuals, many of whom happen to have been refugees: we could have also listed Karl Marx or Albert Einstein.

  6. The Syrian Civil War is a religious conflict among Sunni and Shiite Muslims. The only genuine refugees are non-Muslims such as Christians and Yazidis.

    In Syria a Sunni majority is ruled by a Shia minority. Under Saddam Hussein Iraq was ruled by a Sunni minority. ( 85–90% of the world’s Muslims are Sunni and 10–15% are Shia )

    Yes, Wales should do more to take in refugees but let’s concentrate on genuine refugees.

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