North Texas Daily

UNT Refugee Summit discusses humanitarian crisis

UNT Refugee Summit discusses humanitarian crisis

October 04
13:55 2017

The UNT Refugee Summit 2017 was held Monday in the University Union. The summit, a one-day workshop, hosted researchers and government representatives to discuss issues and experiences of refugees, as well as how students can help those impacted.

The summit was funded by a grant from the Council on Social Work, a national association that represents social work education in the U.S.

The opening keynote speaker, Donna Duvin, executive director for the Texas offices of the International Rescue Committee, spoke about the number of refugees in the world and the challenges they face as their treatment becomes increasingly politicized.

“We are in a time of the worst humanitarian crisis of our lives,” Duvin said. “There are over 65 million people forcibly displaced across the globe. Of these, 22.5 million qualify as refugees.”

Duvin went on to describe the growing refugee crisis going on throughout the world, notably in the Middle East and specifically Myanmar.

On a final note, Duvin said the U.S., due to its vetting process and the decisions made by President Donald Trump’s administration, has recently reduced the number of refugees accepted by more than half. Duvin said the U.S. accepted 110,000 refugees a year under former President Barack Obama. Trump’s plan is to accept 45,000 a year, an all-time low.

A video detailing refugees and their struggles in the U.S. followed Duvin’s speech. Several of the subjects in the video joined moderator Christopher Cambises in a panel discussing what it means to be a refugee, challenges facing them and services available.

During the refugee service providers panel, Lance Rasbridge, medical anthropologist and coordinator for Parkland Hospital’s Refugee Outreach Program, said his goal with the program is to go out to refugees and help them in their time of need.

“[I want] to make sure the program is both accessible logistically and physically,” Rasbridge said.

Rasbridge said he feels like the humanitarian thing to do is go out to the refugees and help them get on their feet ultimately to integrate into society.

“Greatest success I see is refugees who come in as children and get jobs as lawyers and doctors,” Rasbridge said. “This is an important concept.”

Federal political challenges could also threaten this program and similar ones.

Psychology doctoral student Laura Captari and anthropology professor Andrew Nelson said resettlement has a huge effect on the mental health of refugees. They added many refugees in the U.S. are often stereotyped as criminals or dangerous, but are coming to seek freedom and a new way of life after many years of torment and harsh conditions.

Captari and Nelson believe it is understandable how refugees can develop mental health issues when they are often judged and tormented in addition to what they went through before resettlement.

“We cannot go back and undo what happened to them in another culture,” Captari said. “But we can be intentional about advocating to change the climate they are experiencing now from one where they are viewed more as an asset rather than a threat.”

Nelson said refugees are looked at negatively by so many Americans, they cannot remain positive when they don’t receive the freedom they are seeking.

“Students and the community need to understand the difficulty of transitioning from the United States,” Nelson said. “They are in refugee camps for 15-20 years not allowed to do anything. They are placed in the middle of a city and told they have three months to get a job and learn a language and get kids in school. It is a lot to figure out and understand.”

Nelson makes weekly visits to areas in Dallas-Fort Worth where many refugees reside. He related his visits to the way they interact in Nepal.

“I see a lot of interesting forms of urbanization,” Nelson said. “I see people outside their homes hanging out. It is usually these apartment complexes. People interact with each other and walking out and speaking with each other and it feels much closer to life in Nepal rather than in Texas.”

Featured Image: Hala Halabi speaks on a panel at UNT’s Seeking a Safe Haven Refugee Summit. She is the refugee services director for ICNA Relief USA. Mallory Cammarata

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