CONFERENCE

Migration: Rights, Risks and Responsibilities

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“Each displacement will make your life completely change – you will miss the friends, the rituals… each morning the light is different in the place where you go.” These were the words of Ziad Majed, Associate Professor of Middle East Studies at AUP, speaking at the conference: “Migration: Rights, Risks and Responsibilities.” It was organized by AUP graduate students Anna Chapman, Emily Burch and Jessica Brainos with the support of Professor Susan Perry, Graduate Program Director in the Department of International and Comparative Politics. Majed was citing his own experience living through the Lebanese Civil War in the 1980s and 1990s, during which he was personally displaced seven times.

On May 18, 2018, AUP students, faculty and staff gathered at the historic Hôtel de Talleyrand in Paris. In the gilded environs of the 18th-century mansion, Brian Bauer, Cultural Affairs Officer at the US Embassy, introduced three speakers, each with a different perspective to offer on the question of immigration. The first speaker was Professor Majed. He was followed by Alice Bloomfield, a migration advisor for the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Binta Jammeh, COO and co-founder of Konexio, an organization that promotes solidarity and autonomy in refugee communities through access to digital and computer literacy training.

As well as sharing his own story, Majed laid out vital context for the question of migration in Europe by providing a comprehensive explanation of the origins and nature of the conflict of Syria, placing it within the wider frame of geopolitics in the Middle East. His highly instructive talk began with the sobering statistic that 500,000 people have been killed in Syria since 2011 and that 200,000 Syrians have been detained or have disappeared in the same period. The professor then highlighted that 7 million Syrians have been internally displaced and 6 million forced to migrate outside of Syria.

Majed went on to  highlight that, contrary to what European media outlets or political rhetoric might suggest, the vast majority of Syrian refugees are still in the Middle East, not in Europe. As an example, he pointed out the migrant demography of his native Lebanon, where there are almost 1.5 million migrants for a population of 4 million. In comparison, he suggested, the “20,000 or a bit more” the French government has pledged to integrate in France, among a population of 64 million, is a negligible figure. “Most of these refugees are not in France or in Europe – they are still in the Middle East,” he said. “A minimum of respect would make it much easier for these refugees, these people, to have better lives.”

Majed highlighted the citizen initiatives that are making a difference in the apparent absence of a more joined-up structural response, citing among others, AUP’s Baytna à Vous, a student-led organization focused on providing support for Syrian refugees making their life in France. The professor said people-led initiatives such as this show “there is still hope, there is still solidarity – we are not only confronted with forms of discrimination or racism.”

Alice Bloomfield was able to offer the perspective of an NGO with huge international scope. The ICRC provides emergency response to help people affected by armed conflict. They also respond to disasters in conflict zones, where the effects are compounded by war. “We have a global perspective on what’s happening,” she said. “When we talk about crisis, you should question the term ‘crisis.’ What crisis are we talking about? Are we talking about a humanitarian crisis? Are we talking about a political crisis? And what is the impact of the terms we use?” Bloomfield suggested that the rhetoric around migration is often politicized and that even the maps we consult are Eurocentric.  “If we show all the movement going to Europe, the impression is that all migration is going to Europe, but most of the movement is intercontinental, and not to the north,” she said, corroborating the point made by Majed.

Bloomfield went on to lay out the ICRC’s mission to turn “political issues” into “humanitarian issues,” with a focus on ensuring that migrants are protected under international law. This includes performing work such as monitoring in detention centers in Hungary and Greece, working with states to avoid police intervention where possible and assisting unaccompanied minors.

The third and final talk of the day was given by Binta Jammeh. She began her presentation by emphasizing once more the importance of citizen-led initiatives and the role society can play in the integration of refugees. “Grassroots movements led by young people are really shaping and changing the way refugee integration efforts are talked about,” she said.

A Fulbright grant recipient, Jammeh originally came to France to teach and conduct research among students in disadvantaged areas in Paris (quartiers prioritaires), with a particular focus on how children from minority groups access educational and cultural opportunities. Together with fellow Fulbright scholar Jean Guo, whose research concentrated on health impacts in migrant communities, Jammeh established Konexio. This enterprise has now delivered over 100 hours of classes migrants and other vulnerable groups and its diplomas have accreditation from the French state. Seventy percent of graduates of the program have found work after participating and recruitment partners include Salesforce, Microsoft and Paris start-up incubator Station F (this is also where Konexio is based).  

“Local responses to the refugee crisis and local responses to refugee integration are the strongest coming through local citizens and grassroots movements. Everything starts with a small idea and gumption and daring to try and do something and seeing where it will end up,” said Jammeh.

After Jammeh’s talk, Professor Perry convened a Q&A with the social entrepreneur in which AUP students, perhaps galvanized by the conference sessions, asked how they could be involved in Konexio. Though the setting was grand, the connections that were made were personal and, we hope, transformative.

 

Did you miss the conference? Watch the Facebook Live recording here: