Why Refugee Success Stories Don’t Tell the Whole Truth

Others, Refugees

Contributed by: Inasmuch

Written by Richard Belcham, Executive Director, Inasmuch Community Society


What do Albert Einstein, Freddie Mercury, George Soros all have in common? They’re all refugees. All leaders in their fields. All touted as success stories. 

As the International Rescue Committee on its website says: “With support, refugees go on to thrive and contribute to their new countries in many different ways. Meet some of the well-known artists, ambassadors, CEOs and other luminaries who were once refugees.”

Sounds awesome doesn’t it?

And there is lots of research from governments and banks and universities that outline the economic benefits of refugees to a country or an economy.

Or you can read the stats and anecdotes about how refugees are wonderful for the diversity and the enrichment and development of communities.

All of which are true. But none which tell the whole story.

We’re misguided if we think that the definition of success for a refugee is monetary power, or economic clout. Or political influence. Or being a leader or luminary. Or speaking out.

It’s more often quite the opposite.

But it seems here in Canada we don’t really want to celebrate the quiet solitude of someone who has found safety. Or a mother who has found a land for her children to grow up in without fear. 

We don’t create “success stories” based on the fact that success might simply be walking down a street without having to look over your shoulder. Or the freedom to not wear a headscarf. It might just be the fact you can send your kids to school knowing you’ll be there when they return.

Or success might be simply disappearing into the crowd.

It’s about time we thought bigger and deeper than just economic success or integration or leadership. 

The millions of displaced people who put their lives at risk to find safety, should not be shadowed by the famous, the vocal or the visible.

We should stop for a moment and look at our definition of success and how we tell the stories of people seeking asylum. 

The truth is these people are not economic units to be assessed for benefit to Canada. They’re not all CEOs, scientists or leaders in their fields.

They are folks who have left their home countries, not because they wanted to, but because they had to.

When you read the stories of extraordinary people achieving extraordinary things, stop and think of the others. 

The many. The hidden. 

And remember this truth: refugees aren’t seeking success. 

They’re seeking safety.

Richard Belcham is Executive Director of Inasmuch Community Society in Abbotsford. 

Inasmuch provides transitional housing, settlement services, customized employment counseling, English Language training and basic living support for up to six months following an asylum seeker’s arrival in BC.