To kick off International Education Week, Wayne State’s Global Studies Program and Office of International Programs will present #RefugeesWelcome?, an open discussion about the refugee crisis on Nov. 14 from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the Student Center, Room Hillberry D.
In 2015, #RefugeesWelcome began trending on social media after British news source The Independent began circulating an online petition urging leaders to welcome refugees into the United Kingdom. More than 300,000 users added their names and the hashtag has since been used worldwide to lend support to refugees seeking safety.
Yet, in the same year, a Gallup poll found 60 percent of Americans and 84 percent of Republicans were against plans for the U.S. to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. A 2016 Pew Research study placed the topic of refugees as one of the most politically divisive, with 74 percent of Republicans, 55 percent of Independents and 40 percent of Democrats calling refugees leaving Iraq and Syria a threat – while 84,995 refugees from around the world entered the country during the fiscal year.
Pre-law sophomore majoring in English and President of WSU’s Students Organize for Syria chapter, Amal Rass said a constructive and educational dialogue about the refugee crisis is important, because anti-refugee and anti-immigrant rhetoric has the power to be hurtful.
“Many are portraying refugees as ‘bad people,’ when in reality they are just innocent men, women and children who were forced to flee to other countries or stay home and be killed,” she said. “The fear-mongering statements that we see in the media and from certain politicians defy the values of our country. The best way to deal with the opposition is to educate them about what’s really happening and who refugees are, which is why the #RefugeesWelcome? event is so important.”
Rass said she would ask individuals who are against welcoming refugees into the United States to consider the children affected by conflict in particular.
“Over half of refugees are children. When I see photos of children in camps around Europe or when I spoke to children in camps in Jordan, or even seeing photos of children washed up on shores like Aylan Kurdi, I wonder how anyone could look at these images or hear these stories and still say no to accepting refugees,” she said.
According to the event’s official listing, all members of the WSU community are invited to share their thoughts and experiences regarding discrimination, stereotyping, violence and anxiety about terrorism.
“We will not push an agenda at this speak-out, but we do hope that all participants will be able to tease out differences within what appears as a large group of people. When we hear people speak about ‘the’ Muslims or ‘the’ right, we assume commonality in many matters and neglect to see diversity in attitudes and opinions,” Organizer and Assistant Professor of German Dr. Nicole Coleman said. “Offensive comments will not be tolerated. Arguments from different perspectives on the other hand, are welcome and wanted.”
She said faculty experts, academics who have conducted field work in refugee camps, local lawyers and activists have been invited to answer factual questions on-site.
“In our current political situation, there are too many misunderstandings on both sides that have led to discrimination and fear,” Coleman said. “We envision this event as an occasion to voice those fears and to understand what stereotypes on both sides do to those who are stereotyped.”
Coleman said students should leave the event with a better understanding of the situation, the ability to reflect on all perspectives heard and the direction to seek out additional information based on what they learned.
“We need a conversation that differentiates, that doesn’t judge but rather listens,” she said. “In the end, participants may become mediators for these kind of conversations on campus, in their communities, or at home.”
After the #RefugeesWelcome? Event, Rass said SOS will also be hosting a crash course panel on the Syrian crisis with WSU professors Saeed Khan and Eric Montgomery. Students will also have the opportunity to sign SOS’s Books Not Bombs petition to help create scholarships for Syrian students.