Understanding the Global Refugee Crisis: A Tale of 3 Myths

A Rohingya refugee looks at the view from a hill at Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar

The refugee problem is universal and growing; it needs to be addressed clearly.

There is no question that the human rights approach to the refugee problem is well intentioned and grounded in commendable humanistic values. Yet from a psychological perspective it is flawed on two related counts: first, the list of so called human rights though commonsensical is, nonetheless, arbitrary rather derived from a well-articulated conception of the human nature and its fundamental needs. Secondly, the rights approach is legalistic, and preventive in focus. It implies a duty and obligation to not allow the refugees’ rights to be violated, thus setting a minimalist standard to be met by governmental and other relevant bodies, rather than identifying a positive ideal for promoting the refugees’ welfare to the utmost.

The science of psychology has identified a set of basic human needs whose fulfillment is a requisite for contentment and well-being. These include physiological needs related to physical survival (like food and water), but also psychological needs like safety, security, love/relatedness, and a sense of significance and respect. It is such set of well-established needs, rather than an arbitrary set of “human rights” that should serve as a blueprint for the treatment of refugees to assure their contentment and constructive adjustment to their host societies.

Moreover, the insistence on rights and their possible infringement puts those responsible for addressing the refugee problem in a prevention state of mind (as already noted). Rather than focusing efforts to maximize refugees’ well-being, the ‘rights’ approach aims to minimize rights’ violations (and bearing the corresponding punishment). Ironically, this betrays concern about the institutional care takers (them doing the “right thing”) more than about the refugees entrusted to their care.

The refugee problem is universal and growing; it has the potential to destabilize societies and to fuel violence and extremism worldwide. Ignoring it is at our own risk and so is viewing it through lens of outmoded stereotypes and myths whose veracity was disproven by a myriad of facts already.

Arie W. Kruglanski is a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland, and was a founding Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and the Response to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.

Image: Reuters

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