When US President Donald Trump recently raised the idea of sending back a handful of congresswomen to the “broken and crime infested places from which they came”, he echoed a sentiment we hear far too frequently right here in Australia.
Known as ‘the squad’, the congresswomen President Trump targeted are all from diverse backgrounds. He reserved the worst of his remarks for Rep. Ilhan Omar, who came to America as a child refugee from Somalia and was singled out at a campaign rally days later.
The rally crowd’s responding chant to “send her back” was chilling – and a sentiment that has increasingly crept into our own mainstream discourse in Australia, thanks to the likes of Pauline Hanson and Fraser Anning normalising fringe ideas.
But how would our country look like if we acted on these xenophobic impulses and either failed to accept refugee settlement or, worse, sent them back?
For starters, our economy would suffer – to the tune of at least $346 million a year, according to an ABS study of 18,336 small business owners from refugee backgrounds.
Refugees are more entrepreneurial than your average Australian taxpayer. Around one in four humanitarian entrants earns their main income from their own business, with estimates from the Centre for Policy Development putting the annual economic value at $64,878 per business.
Given that more than 800,000 refugees have settled in Australia since WWII, the economic impact of their absence would be significant, particularly when you add in knock-on productivity effects such as increased business competition. And I have not even touched on the contributions of subsequent generations. Research shows humanitarian entrants tend to spend their entire lives in Australia and have the lowest rates of “settler loss” of our migrant groups.
Without refugees, the demographic profile of Australia’s population would also be quite different. In addition to representing around one twentieth of our national population growth since WWII, people arriving under our humanitarian program are also younger than the national population and other migration streams.
This helps to alleviate the pressures of an ageing population, while also maximising new arrivals’ potential economic contribution. Once refugees overcome the challenges of initial settlement, their labour force participation converges towards that of the broader Australian population.
If Australia turned back all refugees, we would lack the contributions of individuals like author, comedian and artist Anh Do, Tan Le, surgeon Professor Munjed Al Muderis, Mariam Veiszadeh and many more.
Can you imagine the mono-culture of a Sydney without vibrant hubs like Cabramatta or Fairfield which have been built from the contributions of people from refugee backgrounds?
When we look at the vast social, cultural and economic contributions refugees make to our country, it’s critical to remember that it is not incumbent on refugees to make any contribution at all. Unlike other migrant streams, humanitarian entrants are not vetted for the skills and experience that will make them a valuable economic asset. They come to Australia because we have a responsibility to protect people facing persecution under international law.
Refugees do not need to be thankful to Australia for offering them a safe haven. They do not need to express that gratitude through economic, cultural and social contributions to our country.
But, nonetheless, they do, and we are a richer country for it.