A few months ago, I watched as the refugee crisis in Syria flooded my Facebook feed; showing images of children and families dying in an effort to reach safety. I was moved to tears by how much these families would risk to escape the horrible violence of civil war that is currently plaguing their country. A few weeks later, I was presented an opportunity at USG through my leadership in the Social Work Student Association to take part in planning an event that discussed this very issue. The staff in the Office of Student Services worked to facilitate the planning and implementation of the event.
The event, “Journey of Strength: Understanding the Migrant and Refugee Crisis” was to help educate students and the community to the reality of the issue. We also provided resources that are available in the community for both students or professionals looking to get involved and for immigrants and refugees.
We wanted to help students understand just a glimpse of what it might be like to experience displacement. Cynthia Azat, Masters of Social Work Student Organization Vice President, and I created journey cards that told the stories of four immigrants and refugees. Our hope was that this could provide insight into possible challenges individuals may face as they transition to life in a new country.
We were thankful to be able to have four wonderful panel members including Jana Mason, Senior Advisor for External Relations and Government Affairs for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); Dr. Sunil Dasgupta, Program Director for UMBC’s Political Science department; Goli Amin Bellinger, Professor at UMB’s School of Social Work; and Mitiku Ashebir, retired Director of the Division of Refugee Assistance at the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The panel members provided a wealth of information including the major differences between refugees and immigrants, the truth behind the politics surrounding this issue, how it is effects us locally, and a refugee insight into improving the integration process for people in my community.
Mr. Mitiku Ashebir, the panelist that provided his personal knowledge of life as a refugee and his professional knowledge of work in this field, said something I think will stick with me forever. He said that even integration isn’t enough; our goal should be “unconditional acceptance.” I know that statement along with the many other things I learned at this event have and will continue to change the way I interact with my neighbors and friends who are immigrants, refugees or family members of individuals who are.