What is the Difference Between Immigrants and Refugees? Why You Should Care!


For the past few years there has been an overwhelming number of people fleeing war torn countries in North Africa and the Middle East.  This year there have been over 100,000 people leaving Syria because they fear for their lives.  There are hundreds of heartbreaking photos that show the turmoil and danger Syrian refugees face when they flee their country.  Many people don’t understand who they are or why they are being forced out of their homes.

There has been some comparison with the US immigrant situation. Here in the US we see a steady stream of immigrants coming in from Central America and Mexico.  The main issues a country faces are: who are these people and how do we deal with an influx of thousands of people?

There is a difference in an immigrant and a refugee.  According to American Immigration Council, there is a difference and it is important to recognize that each group has different legal rights.

Refugees are forced to leave their home countries because of war, environmental disasters, political persecution and/or religious or ethinic intolerance. In the US they are allowed to come into the country almost immediately if they have family members who are already here.  They are “invited” to live here, given a “green card,” and allowed to start over.

“These are people for whom denial of asylum has potentially deadly consequences.” -U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees

Immigrants usually come to the US because the feel they can do better economically in this country. They also come to be with family members who live here. They are not being forced to run from their home countries.

While these two groups of people are different they do have some common traits.  They must adapt to a new life, with new languages, and new laws. You can read more about the differences in immigrants and refugees here.

It is important that we look at these two groups with perspective.  You probably have an immigrant community near you and it is filled with mothers who only want the best for their children. Refugees are leaving war torn countries because they want their children to just live.

We cannot simply shrug off the problems of immigrants and refugees. We are in the privileged position of being able to give our opinions on  these situations.  You can help by donating to reputable organizations like The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) International, or Doctors Without Borders, International Organization for Migration (IOM), International Rescue Committee (IRC), and Save the Children.




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