Refugee Phobia

How scary are they?

The recently leaked government document reveals the Coalition’s plan for introducing serious changes into Australia’s humanitarian resettlement programs. Parts of the document is devoted to the Syrian refugees. It makes reference to the concern that “it is expected some refugees from this conflict will bring issues, beliefs or associations that lead them to advocate or engage in politically motivated or communal violence”.

This kind of concern is not new. It becomes a trending topic for the media and political debates whenever there is an inflow of refugees from war-torn countries. The most recent surge of the debate, which was also regarding Syrian refugees, came after the Paris Attack. Many commentators, mostly from the right end of the political spectrum, argue that the refugees bring with them the conflict, violence and terror prevailing in their home countries.

The roots of this concern can be traced back to the fear of “the other”. In this case, “the other” is Muslims who have been relentlessly dehumanised and blamed as the source of terror and horror in the world, especially after the 9/11 attacks.

In this post, I’m not going to deal with the fear of the other and its use/abuse by right-wing fear mongers. The focus will be on how much this fear of the refugees is actually rooted in the reality.

The terrorist in a sheep’s skin

Most of the terrorist attacks in the recent past have been carried out by people who were either citizen of the host country or entered in ways other than asylum seek. According to Bollfrass, Shaver and Zhou, there much easier ways for terrorists to enter other countries. This is particularly the case for the US and Australia that, unlike Europe, don’t share land borders with home countries of terrorists. Refugees normally have to go through robust and thorough screening processes that significantly reduces the possibility of fake refugees.

An asylum seeker: Strong, adult, violent, male, terrorist

According to Bollfrass, Shaver and Zhou, more than half the refugees are children. Among the rest, at least, half are women. This leaves less than %25 for adult men. Of these men, many are physically or intellectually incapable of combat.

Also, keep in mind that most of the refugees are themselves victims of violence and terror in their countries. This victimhood in many cases renders them less inclined towards violence.

Religion, race and ethnicity as roots of violence

The difference in religion, race or ethnicity is not usually, in themselves, the sources of violent conflict. Studies have shown that even deprivation doesn’t have a direct connection with the violence. Inequalities and discriminations, on the other hand, do.

In other words, people with different religion, ethnicity and race can peacefully live alongside each other in the society as long as they are being treated equally. While countries laws and constitutions are usually egalitarian, in reality, people are constantly being discriminated against. For example, in France, anti-Muslim discrimination is responsible for significant disparities in joblessness. A Christian candidate is more than twice as likely to be invited for an interview as an equally qualified Muslim.


In December 2015, about twenty American top defence and security official from both parties issued an open letter to senators and members of congress. In the letter, they warned against the decision for halting the resettlement of refugees in the US. They say that other than having a moral obligation towards the refugees, failing to provide resettlement for them would undermine their core objective of combating terrorism. In their words, “resettlement initiatives help advance U.S. national security interests by supporting the stability of our allies and partners that are struggling to host large numbers of refugees”.

Considering the recent terrorist attacks in the western countries it can easily be observed that the terrorists were mostly born in those countries and the rest entered the countries by ways other than asylum seeking. The behaviour of the refugees in the host country is not dependent on from where they come. It is determined by the way they are received by the host population and governments.

Thus, instead of fearing the refugees and wasting all the energy, funds and time on the debate whether to welcome or deport refugees, the western countries (including Australia) are better off by focusing on the roots of radicalization.

Photo credit: Yahoo! News

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