Monday, November 23, 2015

Rejecting or Accepting Refugees

Recently Resettled Refugees

The Psychology of Rejection

And How to Help

It’s pretty obvious that people are afraid of killers and potential killers. Given the recent violence in Paris and the horrific killings in Syria and Iraq, it’s natural to be suspicious of anyone who looks like they come from that part of the world.

Appeals to reason are wasted. When threatened wise people seek safety and arm themselves against danger. Conservatives in the U.S. and elsewhere are vociferous in their stance against taking in Syrian Refugees. Muslims are under suspicion in Western countries.

Why is Refugee Rejection So Strong?

1. A Threat Became Reality
A video threatening the U.S. and other countries fighting in Syria has made the rounds. The people in the video are from the same part of the world as are the refugees. And one of the Paris murderers had a Syrian passport. There’s some evidence that a killer came to France as a Refugee. The killers are obviously out to get innocent civilians. You can’t tell the difference between a person in need and a murderer by looking at them. That’s important. We pay attention to obvious features. Who has time for rationale analysis when under threat? We are designed to survive by avoiding death and the risk of death.

2. Experience Supports Risk

Humans rely on available experience when making decisions (availability heuristic). A few human beings with automatic weapons killed more than a hundred people in Paris. Other bombings and shootings have happened and more are on the way. More than 2 million Syrians have fled their country! Hundreds of thousands of refugees are seeking a place to live and work. All it takes is 1-2 percent to destroy hundreds of innocent lives. How can you tell the hardworking honest folk from those intent on harm?

3. People Lie
It’s important to question people claiming they are seeking refuge from persecution or seeking safety from war to discover the truth. While some people are better at discerning an honest report from a lie, questioning is not foolproof (Mendenhall & Schmidhofer). And so called “lie detectors” are not highly reliable methods (APA). Nevertheless, identification and screening methods are important even though they slow the process of resettlement. Keep in mind that not every false statement is a lie. Human memory is notoriously faulty (Sutton, 2015)

4. They’re Not Like Us
All humans are more likely to help family and friends. People of faith support others of similar faith. Christian metaphors refer to other Christians as part of the same body. Helping people of other faith or no faith at all is a barrier to overcome. A large body of research has focused on understanding group loyalty (e.g., Druckman, 1994) and the problem of ingroup and outgroup identification (Whitbourne, 2010). Reason won’t help much. But appeals to duty, common values, respect for others, caring for vulnerable persons, and acting according to the virtues of faith (e.g., love of neighbor, hospitality) are more likely to overcome hostility toward people from some perceived other group than our own group.

How Can We Safely Help Trustworthy Refugees?

Seven Ways to Help

1. Work to Overcome Resistance
Overcoming emotional resistance caused by fear takes work. Getting to know real refugees in person or by reading and forwarding their stories provided by trustworthy news sources and charitable organizations can connect us with people in need. We can work to humanize and counteract those who dehumanize people in need. We can also share stories with others who are focused on fear rather than caring for others. Stories that emphasize common values we share with refugees will help seem them as like us. For example, many humans value being close to family, a place to work, a safe neighborhood, and quality education for their children.
Refugee Camp, Kenya
2. Donate
We can support governments and organizations attempting to provide basic care to existing refugees. We can provide funds, personnel, and other resources so all existing refugees receive basic care. Here’s a link to a list from CNN. There is no need to wait for specific government leaders to welcome refugees because some governments and organizations are doing something now.

3. Tax Ourselves
We citizens can let our representatives know we are committed to paying higher taxes to fund personnel needed to screen all refugees. It’s costly and the screening methods are not perfect. But we can reasonably insist on identification and screening processes for all if we are willing to pay the cost.

4. Communicate
We can encourage our representatives to communicate reasonable expectations to the refugees. When word gets out that a country will take thousands of refugees that can create false hope if they think all they have to do is find a way in. The heartwarming images of Germans greeting refugees at railway stations are beautiful. But that welcome doesn’t happen for everyone. Our government leaders need to be reminded to proclaim a clear message to refugees and provide status updates to citizens. If you ever waited for a government office to make a decision, you can empathize with the importance of accurate and timely communication.

5. Work
Those with skills can meet care needs. Doctors Without Borders is one example of people meeting the medical needs of refugees. Psychologists are also involved in trauma work (APA story). Most agencies need reliable volunteers with a variety of professional and general skills.

6. Learn More
Updates on the needs of refugees can be found at the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Staying current and sharing the knowledge can help others who may not be aware. Also check out the Humanitarian Disaster Institute for tips and suggestions.

7. Vote
Vote for wise and compassionate leaders. Look for those offering reasonable plans to welcome refugees that have passed sensible screening requirements. I say reasonable because some requirements are not clearly linked to safety.

How Can Christian Leaders Help?

1. Persuade

Christian leaders have the power of persuasion with their followers. Therefore, they can encourage people to follow the ethic of hospitality as revealed in the works and teachings of Jesus.

2. Link followers to agencies

Many Christian organizations are doing what they can. Those organizations that have strong accountability standards should be identified along with the type of help needed. The CNN list includes Christian organizations. Convoy of Hope is actively working to help refugees.

3. Educate

Many Christian groups have affiliated colleges, universities, and other schools. Coursework and experiences can focus attention on helping students learn how to help. Summers are obvious times for programs connecting students with refugees or organizations helping refugees.

4. Counteract Fear with Love

Stories of loving responses showing Christians helping refugees will do more than cogent arguments to counteract disproportionate fears. Love is a powerful emotion. We can learn more by seeing people helping people succeed than reading about why we ought to help. And we need to see images and videos of caring to counteract those showing heavily armed killers and dead bodies.

5. Create Opportunities for Cross-Cultural Contact
The best way to break down barriers between people from different cultures is to create opportunities for contact. Christians need to mix with people of other beliefs in their own religion as well as people from other faiths in their own country and around the world. Being a missionary won't necessarily help if one lives in a secluded enclave and maintains a superior stance. Many Christian colleges and organizations support service trips abroad. These trips can be helpful when humility is engendered.

Help Refugees: Get The Word Out

4 reasons people reject refugees

7 ways Christians can help refugees.

5 things Christian leaders can do to help with the refugee crisis.

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