Misconceptions and myths regarding refugees - Doctors of the World

Misconceptions and myths regarding refugees


The number of forcibly displaced people continues to rapidly rise worldwide, reaching a record 110 million at the end of 2022. The increase in migration is largely attributed to recent conflicts like the war in Ukraine or Sudan. However, the growing climate crisis is also becoming a bigger factor in migration as many regions begin to struggle with droughts, massive storms, floods and more. 

As the rate of migration increases around the world, we also see that the rhetoric and misconceptions around refugees and migration are growing as well. Arguments are made that stoke fear and misunderstanding around refugees and migrants, and further prevent any progress or solutions from taking place. 

Below, we address some of the biggest myths surrounding migration being discussed today. 


1. Refugees flee to high-income countries in Europe as well as the United States 


Much of the rhetoric that we see in the media and hear from critics is that refugees and migrants are ‘swamping’ high income countries like France, the United Kingdom or the United States of America. The reality is, in fact, the complete opposite. 

To begin, of the 108.4 million who fled their homes in 2022, 62.5 million are internally displaced, meaning they remained in their country. Only 35.3 million refugees fled to other countries.

Additionally, high-income countries like the USA only host a small portion of refugees. 76% of refugees are actually hosted by low and middle income countries. 70% fleeing to countries that share a border with their own. 

The countries that currently host the largest refugee populations are: Turkey with 3.6 million (mostly from Syria), followed by Iran with 3.4 million (mostly from Afghanistan) and Colombia with 2.5 million (mostly from Venezuela). Meanwhile, in 2022, only 25,465 refugees were admitted to the United States.


2. Refugees are an economic burden on host countries


An argument that is often cited in the media regarding refugee resettlement is that potential host countries simply cannot afford to support refugees. However, many expert economists say that hosting refugees is actually an investment.

It is true that when refugees first settle in host countries, they arrive with little resources and perhaps limited language skills. They initially require government assistance for housing, food, healthcare, language, etc. However, the return is much greater! 

A study done in the USA  claims that although each refugee resettled costs the government around $15,000, the return is greater. Refugees pay an average of $21,000 more in taxes than they cost the government, indicating an overall economic gain associated with refugee resettlement. 

Economists argue that even a 10% increase in refugee resettlement to the United States will likely gain the U.S. economy at least $1.4 billion, and a gain to public coffers (federal, state, and local) of at least $310 million, cumulatively over the following years. With asylum seekers, the gains are even higher with the U.S. economy earning more than $8.9 billion and public coffers boosting to $1.5 billion.



3. Refugees choose to migrate 


As stated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, refugees are people that flee their homes to escape violent conflict or persecution, and have the right to seek asylum in the countries they fled to. Refugees do not choose to migrate, in fact many struggle to leave their homes behind. Rather, they are forced to flee due to extenuating circumstances. 

The biggest refugee populations come from Syria (with 6.5 million refugees), followed by Ukraine and Afghanistan with 5.6 million each. Other large refugee populations include Venezuela (5.4 million), South Sudan (2.2. million) and Myanmar (1.2 million).

Syria, Ukraine, Afghanistan and South Sudan have endured ongoing conflict, which for some has lasted for years, completely destroying infrastructure and leaving the civilian population vulnerable to armed violence, famine, and lack of resources. 

Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis is due to the authoritarian regime that has led to mass corruption, human rights violations, extreme poverty and shortages of food and medicine. Many are forced to flee as they face either extreme poverty or political persecution

The crisis in Myanmar is linked with the mass persecution of the Rohingya population in the country, many were forced to flee as the military led violent attacks against their communities. 

The myth that refugees ‘choose’ to migrate is completely false. 






© Olivier Papignies

© Didier Assal – Médecins du Monde France

© Arnaud Finistre

© Yiannis / MdM Greece