Beware The Refugee Employment Backlash

Canada and other countries around the world are opening their borders to refugees in war-torn countries, especially those fleeing Syria at the moment.

When we hear of people dodging bullets and grenades, witnessing beheadings, beatings and human suffering, it’s not difficult to understand the urgency they feel in fleeing with their families to reach safety. If their situation was yours; with armed invaders going door to door down the street only 7 houses away, how much time would you take grabbing your precious belongings?

So on the one hand, I would like to think that most of us can understand the need to flee and find people and places willing to assist them. Our humanitarian response kicks in borne out of compassion for others experiencing unspeakable horrors.

There are of course concerns that have been raised however by those residing in the countries where the refugees are headed. Some are concerned about terrorists assimilating into the refugees and wrecking havoc in the future in our relatively peaceful societies. Others are concerned about the sheer numbers and the capacity of the receiving cities and communities to bear the costs of housing, feeding and supporting them. Then there are the people concerned about the ongoing financial drain they may be if they don’t get jobs.

I wonder if all the adult refugees had guaranteed employment within 3 months of arrival, would the outcries from some would subside or not? I’m sure a number of people would then start voicing outrage or at least great concern that these refugees were getting jobs ahead of the existing unemployed who are native to the countries the refugees enter.

It would appear this becomes an ethical dilemma; provide a safe haven for refugees and invest in the social costs out of humanitarian compassion, or close the borders and wish them the best as they fend for themselves elsewhere. Do we or do we not have a compassionate society?

On the local scene, we may in the very near future meet face-to-face with at least some of these refugees. They may be in unemployment lines, English as a Second Language classes, riding the buses to get to doctors reception rooms, they might be applying for welfare or indeed they may be sitting a row over from you in a religious synagogue or mosque. Do they look different from us? Sure they might. Rather than thinking the difference is something to be afraid of, maybe it’s an opportunity for us to learn from.

Now if they are here but beaten down, repulsed, spat upon, ignored, humiliated or any other words you might want to substitute, how does that help any of us? If you’re concern is that they are stealing jobs and services away from the homeless or unemployed that you see on the way to work now, do you honestly think there will come a time when all who are homeless are sheltered and all who are unemployed are working? A refugee who gets a job will become a taxpayer immediately and if they open a business will soon hire other unemployed people therefore multiplying that independence.

An unemployed person needs help to become employed no matter which country they were born in. We all come from somewhere. How we respond to a human crisis defines who we are; our prejudices, values and beliefs come out in the process. Do we only value diversity and inclusion when the people we are talking about are so small in numbers that our own way of living isn’t inconvenienced?

When you wed someone, you change and compromise as you learn about the other persons likes, dislikes, beliefs and values. Sometimes you argue, disagree, give in or hold out – but if you are wise you always listen. Welcoming refugees into our societies and our workplaces is no different. They will not only be trying to learn a new job and meet a new employers expectations, they will be trying to assimilate into an entirely new community and country. Expecting an entire conversion to our religion, our foods, our language, our way of doing things is hardly realistic. Were you and I to emigrate to another country, we may not full immerse ourselves in new ways and abandon what to us has been the norm. Even if we had every wish to do so, it would take time, and dirty looks, rude comments and hostile attitudes wouldn’t help.

I’ll point out that some (not all) of the unemployed screaming the loudest about losing jobs to refugees are the same people who refuse help with their resumes, turn down attending interview preparation classes, refuse work outside of a 4 block area and lose jobs due to poor attendance and adherence to company policies. Don’t believe me? Ask the employers and you’ll get examples where people sabotaged their own jobs through bad behaviour and poor judgement. If you are struggling to find employment at the present time, the refugee factor isn’t a current issue for you; find out what is and address it.

Let’s not get into who deserves a job more than someone else. The sooner we embrace change; in this case an influx of refugees into our communities who will need employment in order to be self-sufficient as soon as possible, the better for us as a collective, inclusive community.

Treat others as you’d like to be treated. We learned this in kindergarten; or rather, we heard the phrase. Whether we learned it or not is soon to be seen.