How a Nigerian international lawyer is breaking the refugee stigma3 minute read

Miracle Uche, a rising international lawyer, is passionate about refugees and victims of international crimes. She is a Master of Laws degree graduate of Leiden University Law School; she obtained a Bachelor of Laws degree from Girne American University. She founded a charity, Stichting Unity in Diversity, with which she focuses on refugees’ socio-cultural integration. Miracle comes from the South Eastern part (Abia state) of Nigeria. A country she describes as highly multicultural, which inspires the direction of her work, focusing on how to find unity in diverse cultures. We asked Miracle to share with us her experiences of working with refugees, and the challenges faced during their journey towards successful integration within their host communities.

What is the biggest misconception about refugee resettlement or integration that you have come across in your work?

People generally view refugees’ integration as a one-way process, with the burden of integration into the new host community being placed on the refugees themselves. The challenge with this outlook is that integration encompasses legal, economic [the labor market], social and cultural dimensions. When integration is therefore viewed as a one-way process, and while this can work for legal and economic integration, it will be completely counterproductive to the socio-cultural integration of refugees. The reason is because the socio-cultural integration of refugees involves not just refugees, but others (nationals by way of origin or naturalization, expats, temporary residents, and others who fall in different categories) who live in the host community. I have found that not only this misconception but the stereotypical outlook towards refugees in general, low community preparation and/or involvement, pose a great challenge to refugees’ integration in general.

There is a connection between how people understand the meaning of integration, stereotypes about refugees, community preparation prior to settlement or resettlement of refugees, and refugees’ integration; somewhat like a chain, which can stimulate a chain reaction. A community made up of people with a good understanding of integration as a two-way process, who do not allow negative news or stereotypes about refugees inform their reaction towards them, and whose responsible government involves them in the decision-making process of settlement or resettlement of refugees, will succeed better with integrating refugees in their communities. When flipped, the opposite will be the case for communities which [among other things] are characterized by people with a misconceived outlook towards refugees and integration. Efforts should, therefore, be made to educate as many people as possible on integration, carry the members of the community along, and encourage better media coverage on the positive side of refugees’ resettlement in new communities.

How important is it for there to be a shift in the ways and which the media portrays refugees?

There is no doubt that the media’s portrayal of refugees hasn’t been at its best, to say the least; the result being the spread of the much talked about xenophobia in general and anti-refugee ideas. During our research in the Netherlands, we discovered that fear (on the side of refugees and host communities) plays a hindering role to integration; mainly because people are generally influenced by the media.

Notwithstanding the fact that across the world, refugees are busy rebuilding their lives and making a meaningful impact in communities that have afforded them the platform to do so; only a handful of these beautiful stories are among stories covered by the media. Imagine if the media is overtaken by such beautiful stories, in the same proportion as the negative stories about refugees; this will go a long way to reduce fear of refugees, which will, in turn, lead to greater empathy towards their plight, acceptance of the fact they are first blessed humans, before refugees, and that they can positively and immensely contribute to the betterment of their host communities. A positive shift in the media’s portrayal of refugees’ will be highly beneficial to all.

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