Last fall, the foreign minister from Turkey, Mehmet Cavusoglu, put it bluntly about the level of cooperation and support his country has received from other nations to relieve the enormous costs associated with hosting refugees:
“Commitments have not been fulfilled. Our calls for more burden responsibility-sharing fell on deaf ears.”
One can legitimately argue that current U.S. policies are contributing to the crisis, as the cap on the number of refugee acceptances declines with each passing year. For example, in 2018, only 21,000 refugees entered the U.S., far fewer than the already-low 45,000-refugee cap that was set for that year. For 2019, the cap will be even lower at 30,000.
The annual refugee-acceptance limits under the previous two presidents, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, ranged from 70,000 to 85,000, and 70,000 and 80,000 refugees, respectively.
This downward trend doesn’t have to be the new normal. The U.S. can remain that beacon of freedom and hope to millions. This column isn’t calling for amnesty or wide-open borders. But most people can agree that refugees are deserving of our help.
North Carolina has been one of the more welcoming states for refugees. And the Greensboro area is a big part of that benevolence. Of the 3,711 individuals that resettled in North Carolina in fiscal year 2016, 1,034 were in Greensboro and High Point.
It has been a good investment. In 2015, more than 181,000 refugee entrepreneurs generated $4.6 billion in business income, according to the National Immigration Forum. North Carolina’s refugee and immigrant population in general significantly contributed some $11 billion to state’s yearly economic output, according to an American Friends Service Committee report. As the Center for Public Integrity recently pointed out, between 2005 and 2014, refugees and asylees contributed some $63 billion more to government revenues than they used in public services.
Islamic Relief USA, a nonprofit humanitarian and advocacy organization, had started a refugee resettlement pilot program two years ago in Greensboro. In its first year, it helped resettle 50 refugees in North Carolina’s major cities, including Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte. Refugees, through case management and a development plan, were given monthly stipends to help them assimilate into the American society, through stipends for housing, seeking a job or trade, and managing a budget. About 60% of people were able to find a job in the first year of the program.
IRUSA also collaborated with the Greensboro Housing Coalition to sponsor seven families displaced by a fire at an apartment complex. IRUSA contributed almost $21,000 in emergency assistance to help the families relocate.
Wasif Qureshi, a case manager for IRUSA, said that while many of his clients face formidable obstacles, hope and determination keep them — and him — going.
“We’re trying to bring people out of the jaws of defeat,” he said. “We are always trying to refocus them to see the bright side.”
Unlike asylum seekers, which we hear and see often, refugees are defined as those individuals who already have been vetted by federal government agencies while outside the U.S.
We all can do our part to enable the refugees who are already here (and will continue to come in much smaller spurts than previously) to become productive members of society, especially at the local level. It’s the responsible thing to do.
“They still have to pay rent, they still have to eat,” Qureshi said. “We need constant influence toward policies. Call your senators and tell them you’re not threatened by your refugee neighbors.”
As Greensboro has shown, it takes a cohesive community to have a diverse social fabric. Let’s do our best to make sure that doesn’t unravel.