During Writer’s Fortnight, I attended multiple talks and one of those was Joy Haugen’s refugee story. She migrated from South Sudan, across Africa and ended her journey in America. She said that when she moved to the USA she was always seen as the “refugee girl”. This lead me to wonder if the term ‘refugee’ is truly needed.
The word refugee, according to the Oxford Dictionary is “A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.” This doesn’t say anything about race and ethnicity which is what refugees are usually associated with. A refugee could be from any country and have often gone through rough and heartbreaking journeys to get a new country that most likely they have never been to before. So why is it that when people call someone a refugee, does it have a negative connotation? Why doesn’t it receive empathy, like it should, but rather puts someone down? Does this mean it would be better to stop labelling people as refugees and when they integrate into a new society that they should just be someone who moved, also disregarding their heritage and journey?
Reasons Why to Ditch the Term ‘Refugee’
More Culturally Acceptable
Being a refugee means that you have been let onto land that isn’t of your home country. This means that although they have a right to live there, they’re not coming with employment and in lots of cases, they don’t have anyone (family or friends) to look after them. Some conservatives associate this with the thought that a refugee hasn’t earned their right to be in the country, and that they have only been taken in as an obligation, not on merit. This angers many people and is the backbone of racial and status discrimination. Without the term refugee being used more people will accept them into society as there won’t be as many differences anymore to discriminate against. Especially if they’re giving back to society and helping the community that they now call home.
More People to Identify With
Transitioning to a new country can be tough, but as a refugee, in the United States, you are part of a minority group. Minority groups in the past and present have been discriminated against and seen as lesser than the majority countries. This can be seen in cases of white supremacy and cultural segregation. If refugees used the term ‘immigrant’ (A person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country). Immigrants are more socially accepted and they are similar to refugees but have better connotations to it. When someone is an immigrant, they are thought to bring something to the country that they would eventually call ‘home’. As lots of the U.S is made up of immigrants and they play an important role in society it is less likely for them to be discriminated against, making it easier to integrate into society.
Reasons Why Not to Ditch the Term ‘Refugee’
The matter of the fact is refugees shouldn’t have to feel like they have to repress their heritage or their journey to where they are now, especially just to fit into a society that claims to be accepting. This is called cultural assimilation, cultural assimilation is when a minority group or culture is pressured to resemble ideologically and physically like a majority group. There are different types of cultural assimilation, for example, if you are of Cuban origin in the U.S, most Cubans will eventually use English as their first language and eventually start to adopt the main American culture into their everyday lives. As said by Melissa Lozada-Oliva “Assimilation won’t stop until you learn to stay silent and police yourself”, if this assimilation was pushed into the area of refugee status many would forget their journey and not feel the need to talk about not only what happened to them, but happened to their country. If no awareness is raised this could happen to any other country in the world, especially if people denied it happened. Take Syria as an example, before Syria had a bad reputation it was a country where civilised people lived, with their families and went to their jobs like anyone in the western world. Then after a series of catastrophic events, it became a place that people couldn’t even utter the name of without feeling bad. What happened in Syria could happen in any country and without awareness, it could happen again.
As well as cultural assimilation, the journeys that they have been through shouldn’t be silenced. This happens in many situations where people don’t feel like their feelings are recognised and so they don’t open up about what happened to them, leading them into states of depression, anxiety and even PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). PTSD is common in children and their parents. This feeling should not be suppressed by society but should also not have to be constantly brought up by the tormenting of the term “refugee girl/boy”. Everyone should have the right to live their lives stress-free or as happily as they can, containing those feelings inside is not healthy for anyone especially if you’re trying to integrate into a new society.
In conclusion, refugee’s should not have to ditch their status just to fit into society because even though they are a minority group they shouldn’t be treated as anything other than an equal. Cultural assimilation shouldn’t occur to make a person’s life better. This also means that they should not be tormented for their past with violent words. No one should feel like their only choice is to change their appearance and the way they represent themselves just to fit into a society that they don’t identify with.
Beiser, Morton, and Daphne Korczak. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Caring for Kids New to Canada, 2018, www.kidsnewtocanada.ca/mental-health/ptsd.
Lozada-Oliva, Melissa. “Donald Trump’s Fear of Spanish Reveals the Power in Our Language – and Identity | Melissa Lozada-Oliva.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 10 Sept. 2015, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/10/donald-trumps-fear-spanish-power-language-identity.