With the first ever Olympic refugee team competing in Rio, refugees and displaced people are once again in the global spotlight. There are 65 million refugees and internally displaced people around the world - nearly one in every 100 people on earth - the largest number in recorded history. Each year, less than 1% of the world’s refugees are resettled.
While the world comes together for the Olympic games, let’s also consider who the winners are when it comes to taking care of some of the most the vulnerable people in our global community. Here are five countries that might be awarded medals this year for their efforts to care for Syrian refugees:
While the number of refugees Canada accepts may be small compared with other countries, Canada’s commitment to being a welcoming nation and taking care of new immigrants makes them a gold medalist in the area of refugee resettlement. Not only has Canada welcomed nearly 30,000 Syrian refugees, they have engaged communities and individuals to become sponsors to refugee families, and have remained remarkably transparent throughout the process. Canada’s gold standard approach to refugee resettlement is a model that other countries would do well to pay attention to.
Germany also wins gold this year, mainly due to the courage of chancellor (and MVP) Angela Merkel. During the 2015 influx of Syrian refugees, when other EU member countries were closing their borders to those who were streaming in, Merkel took a bold stance, welcoming refugees into Germany and committing to deal with their asylum applications, regardless of which EU country they had initially come through. This ultimately led to more than 1 million refugees entering Germany last year - including nearly 300,000 children. Even though these mass arrivals continue to be challenging for the country to absorb (and difficult politically, given a polarized climate and recent terror attacks) Merkel has stood by her immigration policy.
Lebanon is a small country with a large stake in the Syrian refugee crisis: It currently has more refugees per capita than any other country on the planet. One in every four people in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee - some live in the cities in ‘refugee ghettos’, some are in camps, and currently 155,000 Syrian children attend Lebanese public schools. While Lebanon has been welcoming Syrian refugees for five years (and the cost of caring for refugees in Lebanon is said to be a fraction of the cost of caring for them in many European countries), recent terror attacks in the country have catalyzed public fears of the refugee community and strained relationships.
There are now an estimated 2.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, making it the largest host in the world. Turkey has spent billions of dollars caring for refugees, and still managed to see economic growth last year. But despite Turkey’s willingness to take in millions of vulnerable people, its refugee camps are only designed to accommodate 200,000 people - and reports of squalid conditions, violence, and illegal deportations of refugees, combined with political instability in the country - make this a potentially dangerous place for those seeking asylum. Turkey receives a bronze medal for taking in a large number of refugees, but does not exhibit a gold standard when it comes to caring for them.
The United States has long been an example of what it means to welcome refugees, even though public opinion hasn’t always favored new immigration. The US has accepted a respectable average of about 70,000 refugees per year during the last decade, with plans to raise that number to 85,000 over the next few years, but political pushback and unfounded fears that refugees will commit acts of terror have prevented greater action when it comes to Syrian refugees - the US has only committed to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees during this fiscal year, and has accepted just over 8,000 so far. The US earns a bronze medal for its ongoing, long-term commitment to refugees and immigrants, with hopes that it will look toward the gold, putting fear aside and showing more generosity toward those in the global community who are in need of it.
The Olympic Games are an important reminder that we live in an interconnected world, and a great example of the ways we are stronger when we recognize and honor our common humanity. What better time than now to reflect on our ability to build a stronger global community together - one in which everyone is welcome, and everyone has a place to call home.