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Aug 16 2017
by Moriah Hendrick

5 Common Misconceptions About the Global Refugee Crisis

By Moriah Hendrick - Aug 16 2017

When it comes to a topic as hotly debated as the refugee crisis, everyone seems to have an opinion. The problem is that some of those opinions are misinformed. Here are some myths about refugees around the globe that, if believed, can impair our perception of the issue.

1. The refugee crisis is a modern development.

The current crisis in Syria has brought the greatest number of refugees to Europe since World War II. However, refugees and involuntary migrants have been a constant force around the globe for more than 75 years.  To name just a few examples: The 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence and the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 which displaced 14 million, 10 million and 5.3 million people, respectively. Attempts at remedying this issue of refugees have been the basis for our most comprehensive global agreements concerning human rights in the last 60 years. 

2. The majority of refugees are young men.

This myth was largely perpetrated by Senator Ted Cruz's 2015 claim that 77 percent of the refugees “pouring into Europe right now” are young males. Less than 850,000 of the 12 million displaced Syrian have fled to Europe, and while 62 percent were men, this is simply because women and children are more likely to remain in refugee camps closer to their homelands (places like Jordan and Turkey). Out of the Syrians being referred to the U.S., 67 percent are children under the age of 12 and women. UNCHR, the UN's refugee agency, reports that 50 percent of the world's 23 million refugees are children.

3. All refugees are Muslim. 

While there should be no negative connotation around Islam as a whole, the idea that all refugees are Muslim limits the diverse mass of humanity that has been affected by war worldwide. In 2016, just 46 percent of all refugees admitted to the U.S. were Muslim — the highest that percentage has ever been. 44 percent Forty-four percent were Christian, and the remaining 10 percent were Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and other religions.

4. The refugee crisis is confined to the Middle East.

While the rise of ISIS in the Middle East has created a tragically high displacement rate, and therefore more refugees, this is not a complete picture of the issue. Refugees entering the U.S. today do come predominantly from Syria and Iraq, but there are also extremely high displacement rates in Burma, Columbia and South Sudan. In the last few decades, many refugees have also settled in the U.S. from places like Bosnia, Cambodia and Vietnam. 

5. Most refugees will end up resettled in a European nation or the United States. 

Less than one percent of all refugees who enter a refugee camp will ever make it to a third country. Some refugee camps have lasted for more than three generations, and the average stay throughout all camps is 17 years. With tens and even hundreds of thousands of people crammed into subhuman living conditions for decades at a time, the camps can become breeding grounds for everything from deadly disease to extremist ideologies. 

This crisis is complex and often overwhelming, but most importantly, it is an issue of humanity. It may only remain unending and unsolvable for as long as the world's richest nations continue to turn their backs on those most in need.

Lead Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Moriah Hendrick - University of Virginia

Moriah is a first year student at the University of Virginia, where she studies Foreign Affairs and Global Development. In high school, she volunteered with a local refugee agency teaching ESL (English as Second Language). She likes reading books big enough to hurt your arm if you hold them up for too long and Instagramming pictures of her cat. Follow her on Twitter or IG @riahmadyhen

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