COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT REFUGEES

In our modern era of clickbait headlines and 280 character debate, refugees, like so many other marginalized communities, often suffer from negative stereotyping and popular misconceptions. As part of our commitment to promoting more understanding, truth-based discussions and helping reshape the narrative around refugee populations, it is essential to unpack the facts from the fiction.

NaTakallam’s displaced tutors, teachers, and translators come from diverse personal and professional backgrounds – each with unique skills and experiences surely misconstrued by simplistic generalizations.

This World Refugee Month, NaTakallam hopes that employers and communities around the world will use this time to better understand the rich contribution refugees can offer their cities and places of work.

Myth 1: Most refugees restart their lives comfortably in new countries.

Fact: Less than 1% of refugees are resettled into new countries.

Resettlement is still a rare phenomenon, even though millions are eligible. If successful, it often takes years, and the journey of starting life anew in a foreign country can be extremely hard, especially in the face of new legal and educational systems, foreign languages and cultural norms.

NaTakallam works with many skilled refugees who are often stuck in limbo, cut off from the local labor market, in camps, or in other transit circumstances, where each session contributes directly to their livelihoods.

Sources: UNCHR and Roads to Refugee

Myth 2: Most refugees flee to the US, Europe and Australia.

Fact: Over 80% of displaced persons are in countries neighboring the conflict from which they fled.

Contrary to common belief and loaded headlines, only a small fraction of resettled refugees are hosted in developed countries. More often they are forced into limbo states, with no legal residency or work status.

NaTakallam works predominantly with displaced people who have fled to developing countries, neighboring the conflict from which they fled. Top host countries include Turkey, Pakistan, and Uganda, as well as Lebanon (which hosts more refugees per capita than any other country, according to UNHCR).

Sources: UNHCR and WEF

Myth 3: Refugees are mostly adult males.

Fact: More than half the world’s refugees are under 18.

Most refugees are not men. According to UNHCR, there are around 13 million child refugees, but less than one million seeking asylum. Additionally, 17 million children are forcibly displaced within their country of origin. This demographic breakdown holds true for almost every regional crisis and is a significant concern as contemporary child migration is often inhumane, disregarded, and usually unregulated.

Source(s): UNCHR and UN.

Myth 4: Many refugees have smartphones so they must be well off.

Fact: Smartphones are a lifeline for refugees, not a luxury.

For refugees, smartphones are not just for casual scrolling through social media, instead they offer the ability to access essential and potentially life-saving information such as where to get food, how to find shelter, applying for financial aid, or even earning a livelihood through virtual work. Smartphones are so important to refugees’ lives that they often spend up to a third of their disposable income just to stay connected.

In the era of what some have dubbed “the connected refugee,” NaTakallam can provide income opportunities to refugees, to work as language tutors, teachers and translators for users all around the world. 

Sources: WEF Forum and Forbes.


Myth 5: Most refugees live in camps.

Fact: Over 60% of refugees live in urban areas.

Contrary to the frequent images of sprawling refugee camps in media outlets, over 60% of refugees live in urban areas. This has presented a new set of challenges: resources are often less concentrated, humanitarian assistance less plentiful and individuals can more easily miss vital information and aid.

NaTakallam works with displaced persons in both urban areas and refugee camps – which is made possible because of how we leverage technology.

Sources: UN Refugees, UNHCR, World Refugee Council and The Brookings Institute.

Myth 6: Refugee influxes ruin economies.

Fact: Studies show that refugees can be positive fiscal contributors.

The notion that admitting refugees will ruin a host country’s economy is rooted in false economic ideas. Over time, refugees add more value to the economy than the initial cost of resettlement – if they are granted the right to work legally. Moreover, studies show that low-skilled foreign workers and low-skilled domestic workers tend to complement each other, rather than compete. In addition, immigrants tend to have higher entrepreneurial activity compared to natives, with studies finding that two-thirds of US GDP expansion since 2011 can be directly attributed to migration – an economic development trend also observed in Europe and the Middle East.

Many of NaTakallam’s displaced tutors are barred from employment due to legal restrictions – leaving them vulnerable to black market, unsafe work. NaTakallam allows refugees to make an income legitimately, and safely, regardless of their location.

Sources: UN, Immigration Forum and University of Oxford.

Myth 7: The largest refugee camp is a Syrian camp in Jordan.


Fact: The Kutupalong Rohingya camp in Bangladesh is the world’s largest refugee camp.

While not receiving much global media coverage, Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh hosts over 860,000 Rohingya refugees fleeing ethnic and religious persecution – making it the largest refugee camp in the world, since 2017. Followed by Bidi Bidi camp in Uganda with a population of over 230,000 refugees, and Dadaab camp in Kenya with over 200,000 refugees.

In comparison, the largest Syrian camp, Zaatari refugee camp, located in Jordan, is home to over 77,000 refugees – 11 times fewer refugees than that of Kutupalong camp. 

Sources: UNHCR, Africa Center and UNHCR Data

Myth 8: Most refugees are from the Middle East.

Fact: The largest groups of refugees are from Venezuela, Syria & Afghanistan.

While refugee flows from the Middle East have captured most media attention in recent years, unfortunately conflict and persecution know no bounds. In 2020, 5.5 million Syrian refugees made up ~25% of the global refugee population. Meanwhile, Venezuela continues to battle one of the largest non-war displacement crisis, with over 5 million people forced to flee economic, political, and humanitarian disaster over the last two years. In addition, many often overlooked countries actually top the list, such as Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Eritrea.  

Sources: UN, Statista, The Brookings Institute, UNHCR, and World Vision.

Myth 9: Refugees don’t make for good employees.

Fact: Refugees can be a long-term economic advantage for companies.

Employers say it best: when it comes to refugees, “They come to work and get the job done.” Recent research from the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) highlights that in addition to being hardworking, refugees often stay with their employers for longer and speak a foreign language – a highly desirable skill for any company with global operations. Furthermore, in the Tent Partnership for Refugees report, many businesses hiring refugees claimed that employee turnover rates were much lower among refugee employees than the general population – thus, saving businesses a lot of money. This finding was further backed by FPI across all industries and sectors.

Sources: UN, Fiscal Policy Institute and Tent Partnership for Refugees.

Myth 10: “There’s nothing I can do to help refugees.”

Fact: Each person can make a difference in supporting refugees.

Everyone can do something. Whether it’s hosting refugees in your home or community, raising awareness or supporting refugee-centered companies, you have the power to make meaningful differences aside from financial donations.

And if you’re looking to directly support refugee livelihoods, consider bringing NaTakallam into your home, classroom or office setting, for your language-learning, cultural exchange or translation needs. All services are delivered by skilled refugee and displaced tutors, teachers and translators, and each session contributes directly to refugee livelihoods, at a time when they might be cut off from the local labor market, in camps, or in other transit circumstances.

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