On June 20th, it’s World Refugee Day. This day is to commemorates the obstacles refugees face each year, but it’s also a day on which we celebrate their courage and strength. Refugees face many challenges when arriving in a new country, including a language barrier, being unfamiliar with the culture, prejudice, and social exclusion among others. While these are issues that many refugees deal with, it is not easy to talk about refugees. Especially because the word ‘refugee’ describes so many people from all over the world with a different story. A refugee can be a teacher from Ukraine, a doctor from Afghanistan, a college student from Syria, and many other individuals with names and lives previous to being a refugee.

Yet, we sometimes still talk about refugees as if they all have the same story. But that’s not the truth. Besides, there are a lot of myths about refugees. In the face of World Refugee Day, we’ll describe five common misconceptions about refugees in this blog post.

Word Refugee Day

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Misconception 1: Refugees Are Willing To Leave Their Home Countries To Find a Better Place To Live

Refugees don’t flee their homes because they want to, or because they would like to explore new opportunities. Refugees are forced to flee their homes to escape dangerous situations. They may have lost loved ones and are forced to leave everything behind for the unknown. 22% of all world refugees end up living in a refugee camp or in places where they have not been before, nor have any friends or family. Sometimes they have periods of time in which they don’t know where their lives will go and where they will live in the future. In the end, most refugees will find a place to live and are able to build up their lives again. However, they did not want to leave their home countries, friends, and family because they were looking for a better place to live.

Misconception 2: All Refugees Live In Camps

Refugee camps differ from country to country. Some countries have organized areas with facilities that are provided by the government. Other countries have camps that exist out of makeshift shelters built by people that had to flee a conflict. Some refugees that are living in refugee camps face limitations on their rights, freedoms, and in their ability to make meaningful choices about their lives. But the reality is, that most refugees live in cities and towns. According to the UNHCR in 2018, 61% of the refugee population globally were living in urban areas. Other than refugee camps, cities allow refugees to make money, build a good future and live autonomously. So, while it is true that some refugees live in camps, there are also a lot of urban refugees: refugees who decided or were obliged to settle in an urban area rather than in a refugee camp.

Misconception 3: Refugees Are Often Under-Qualified

Refugees are often underestimated. More than other migrants, refugees are likely to be overqualified. According to the European Commison and the OECD (2016), almost 60% of employed tertiary-educated refugees in the EU are overqualified for the jobs they do. This is more than twice the level of the native-born, and exceeds the levels for other migrants. Refugees often face large barriers in the workplace. This relates mostly to the fact that employers may not accept their foreign qualifications or degrees.

Refugees who are going to school also struggle with finding good education in their new host country. Minor refugees that have been on the road for years and therefore missed classes, can’t get into the system right away. This causes delaying their opportunities in their lives and in the labour market. Getting equivalent certifications as a nurse, doctor or teacher and so on, takes so much time that this doesn’t give much hope to people. How often do you hear that even when, for example, someone is a good educated social worker with a good paid job in their home country, they’re still unable to find a similar job in their host country? Too often!

You have to keep in mind that just like everyone, refugees are family members, friends, neighbours, colleagues and so on. Yes, they have to flee their safe space and rebuild a new life in another country. But, other than that, they aren’t different from others.

Refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers

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Misconception 4: Refugees Leave Their Countries To Find Better Job Opportunities

This is a misconception that people often make: there is a difference between being a refugee and a migrant. Refugees have to flee their homes because they are in danger. This danger may have been caused by war, violence, or persecution because of their race, ethnicity or religion, for example. Refugees run for their lives and most of the time cross international borders without having papers. They often put themselves, and their families, at great risk.

Migrants leave their country to seek better work opportunities or for a better life, for example. But, natural disasters and poverty are also reasons for people to flee their home. So, be careful with making assumptions, because the idea that refugees leave their countries to find a better job isn’t correct. Do you want to know more about the differences between migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers? Then read this blog post.

Misconception 5: Refugees Don’t Want To Integrate Into Society

Sometimes refugees have a hard time integrating into society and establishing social relations. Integration of refugees can be a long and fraught process. It requires refugees to adapt to the reality of their new lives. But the reason why refugees have a hard time integrating is also partly due to the fact that people have prejudices. Moreover, it’s often thought that refugees are distant and don’t want to integrate and participate in society. As a result, a gap is created between the local population and refugees in many societies.

However, the opposite about refugees is often the case. If people start opening up a little bit to refugees and start making conversations, they will find that refugees are often very eager to talk and engage in social activities. Integration requires receiving communities to accept their new arrivals, to accommodate their presence with material en generosity and to be open to the possibility of enrichment. Just have a little chat with them and discover the beautiful stories every refugee has to tell!

Host Communities

Refugees often face resistance from the people in their host communities. It requires a lot of strength to overcome all the prejudices people have in the first instance. Just like others, refugees are in need for empathy, which they can receive by meeting new people. Just make sure to break down the prejudices, and to be open to know the different dimensions of a person apart from being a refugee. Make sure to be kind, to everyone you meet!

Do you want to make sure everyone that has to flee to your home country feels at home, especially. on World Refugee Day? Share your language and culture with everyone who is new in your country, by signing up to be a buddy at SPEAK. And help refugees feel comfortable and at home in their new country. Are you a refugee and looking for a buddy? Go to speak.social, sign up for a language group, and get integrated into your new community!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of SPEAK.

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Author: Aster Taken

Aster is a marketing intern at SPEAK. She finished her masters degree in Communication Science at the Radboud University Nijmegen and moved to Lisbon in January. She loves food, hanging out with friends and exploring her new temporary place of residence.

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