Last week was refugee week. Since our course is about migration we have included many refugee week events in our class schedule. They have been very rewarding and informative. My favorite event was a panel discussion about refugees titled: Our Shared Future – Beyond Fear and Intolerance.
The panel consisted of five people. The invited speaker was Stephen Sackur, a BBC journalist. The other four persons on the panel worked with or specialized in refugees: Andrew Leak (UNHCR), David Amias (Tavistock Centre), Angelina Jalonen (The Refugee Council), Renos Papadopoulos (CTAR). They each gave a brief presentation explaining what kind of work they are involved in before the discussion began.
One of the presentations that I really enjoyed was by Angelina Jalonen who works for The Refugee Council. I was interested in the work that she was so passionate about. The Refugee Council offers multiple services to refugees. Many people believe that once you are granted refugee status that the fight is over, but that is not the case. Refugees are expected to find a job in an extremely short amount of time and The Council helps them to find jobs and process the trauma that they have gone through during their journey.
Angelina Jalonen mentioned that lack of awareness about refugees leads to fear discourse. Examples of this can be seen in everyday life. The media often portrays refugees as dangerous and misinforms the public. People fear things that they do not know, and this is being proven once again in the current refugee crisis.
The presentations were followed by a discussion. The crowd was involved and could ask questions to the panel, or provide answers to questions.
One point that was brought up during the discussion by one of the panel members was that traffickers are selling fake life jackets, referred to as “death jackets.” This idea of people profiting from people that are fleeing for their lives and possibly killing them in the process appalled me. This came up again when we were visiting the Migration Museum which had a collection of fake life jackets that had been collected on islands in Greece.
A member in the audience asked: What can we do to teach origin countries and countries that refugees travel through about human rights? There were several responses to this question. One of the panel members stated that the political temper makes it difficult to “sell” humanitarian actions at this time. Angelina Jalonen addressed the question with a brilliant quote: “When two bulls are fighting it is the grass that suffers.” This brings to light the fact that as countries fight about human rights and refugee policies, people are suffering. This panel helped us see how the policies and history we have been learning about is being acted out in real life. Many of the people spoke from personal experiences and worked with refugees every day. The information that was shared in the room needs to be spread throughout the world to promote awareness of refugees.