Saturday, January 09, 2016

Economic Migrants Vs Refugees

We tend to have more sympathy for refugees, as they have usually suffered to some degree and have not chosen the lot which brings them away from their home. If we are going to rescue anyone, we think, better to rescue the innocent sufferers.  This is part of why liberals (generally) commenting on the situation in Europe want us to think that pretty much all these people are refugees, showing us pictures of cute children or sad-looking parents carrying their few belongings.

Conservatives (generally) are quick to focus on how few of them seem to actually fit the description, noting the preponderance of young males, the cost of smuggling them across Turkey, their unwillingness to go to the poorer European or any Arab country, and opinion polls suggesting that as many as 30% may have sympathy for terrorist groups including ISIS and be uninterested in assimilating to their new countries very much.  Refugees good, migrants bad, in the news cycle.

There's another side to that. Refugees tend to arrive with fewer skills, and are often passive.  Whether this is a passivity attributable to their trauma, or whether passive people are more likely to become refugees in battle zones I don't know, but the final effect is passivity here.

Cuban refugees went to my school when I was a boy, and about a third of the foreign students in my highschool were refugees from one place or another.  We resettled Laotians in the early 80's. The occasional Polish or Russian refugee would come into our field of vision before the Iron Curtain fell. Refugees from former Yugoslavia work at my hospital, and I know that crowd moderately well.  We worked with Sudanese refugees more recently, teaching Sunday School and helping them found a church in our denomination.  We still see those a bit.

And through it all I have had many refugees, from a couple of dozen places, among my patients at the hospital. I may know more refugees than I know other immigrants, which would surely seem strange to those who live in Mexamerica or near the big cities. 

I'm no expert on refugees and my sample is biased in more than one direction, but I do know some, in various places and times. I know some who have good American jobs and middle-class lives now, and I know some who we will be caring for forever, because they have no ability to do even the simplest job here. Nor do all of them have any kind of grateful attitude or the gentle tolerance of people who have seen much pain, as movies and documentaries would have us think.  Some do. The small numbers that we take in are largely symbolic in terms of solving the problems of the world.  A gesture. They can be a significant burden on an area.

Most of our ancestors were economic migrants, not refugees. Even those that were escaping political or religious persecution were not actually refugees, though we certainly have had both.  Most of the immigrants now are not refugees, but people hoping to set up some sort of life here. 

I'm not advocating anything.  Just clarifying.


jaed said...

There's an important distinction between people who decide to come to this country to live on the one hand, and people who are fleeing trouble but would really rather go back home if that becomes possible. The latter may well be better assisted closer to home. (Cheaper, too, meaning whatever money we provide to help them them will go farther.)

Then there's the separate question of whether people in the first group are coming here because they want to become Americans or because it's convenient. Which is a whole other issue, and to my way of thinking, this one is more important (although less urgent) than the issue of where to settle refugees fleeing war and oppression.

Sam L. said...

As with jaed, I have no problem with economic immigrants, so long as a) they want to accomodate to and accept our culture. and b) we can manage their numbers, and c) we have enough jobs for our citizens already. c) is not currently true. Its future is uncertain.

dmoelling said...

My father got involved in some Church groups sponsoring "refugees". The problem I saw was that in the two cases he helped in (and threw his heart in to his later disappointment) there was no specific peril to these people. One young guy from El Salvador who loosely claimed to be on someones hit list and a family from Burundi. It was quickly apparent that these were random picks from a large pool of the population who happened to be on the losing side. The Burundi's were from a very large UN run camp for displaced persons and the refugees sent to the US were just for show. They weren't ready to diligently pursue school, work or the other opportunities and subsidies granted them. Perhaps this was such a large leap in material standard of living and safety that they figured why work?

By contrast if you look at 80% of Vietnamese refugees after the fall of Saigon, they had both the cultural skills and the desire to prove a point. But there are some truly unsavory groups such as Bosnians (Utica NY and certain St Louis MO neighborhoods are now Balkan run ganglands) who saw this as a business opportunity without any desire for a change in culture.

It strikes me that if you really want to do some help, look at the small religious minorities in bad shape around the world (various ME mountain groups such as the Yazhidi's and others), Christians and Bahais in Iran etc. For the most part the worst you could end up with is a duplication of various amish and morvaian communities in Pennsylvania.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I will note the word "communities" in dmoelling's last paragraph, which may be key.

Texan99 said...

It seems they need to bring a functioning culture with them, together with the flexibility to adapt to our culture here to some extent, or at least allow their offspring to do so. So they tend to do better if they're a community, but the community can't just be a criminal gang.

jaed said...

I think "bring a functioning culture with them" is a key idea, and it's one I'd never really thought about before.

It's a truism that successful immigrant groups have strong families, which may be part of the same pattern (family as community - and also strong family ties tend to be related to other community ties).