Refugee Panel Explores Political Answers to Humanitarian Crisis

Felicia Villalobos ’19Contributing Writer

Students packed into Neilson Browsing Room last Wednesday to listen to a panel entitled “Taking Responsibility for the World’s 60 million Refugees.”

The panelists – three Smith professors and one Global Scholar from the Lewis Global Studies Center – each provided a unique academic and personal perspective on the current influx of refugees streaming into Europe.

The panel focused on the topic of the inadequacy with which the European Union has handled the crisis, the role of transit states and corrupt governments that are at the heart of the crisis, as well as the refugees that have rushed to Italy and other neighboring countries.

Steven Heydemann, professor of Middle Eastern studies opened by presenting background information on the civil war in Syria and the influx of refugees.

Stressing that this is not a new issue, Heydeman reminded the audience that this current refugee crisis is the worst displacement of people since 1991. Since the outbreak of war in Syria, 40 percent of the pre-war population has become refugees.

Heydeman discussed the struggles of caring for 60 million refugees, using staggering statistics to show that, despite Europe’s improved policies for handling the flood of people, in other countries with similar policies, such as Lebanon, the vast majority of incoming refugees still live outside the safety of refugee camps.

With the number of people leaving Syria growing at an exponential rate and refugee camps filling up quickly, funding programs that provide crucial services to refugees have become a massive problem for the European Union and other regions around the globe.

Recently, the World Food Program — a $236 million branch of the United Nations — cut services due to an increase in funding gaps. This reduction of services hit Jordan brutally, since approximately 630,000 refugees seek shelter in Jordan in both local communities and camps.

Greg White, a Mary Huggins Gamble Professor of Government discussed the impact of transit states in the European Union.

White explained the controversy surrounding policies and actions to handle the thousands of refugees who make the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean to reach Italy and Greece.

Earlier, the European Union gave $1.8 million towards Navy rescue efforts that would save small boats that cross the Mediterranean and transport passengers to processing centers in Italy and other neighboring countries.

This funding was cut in 2014, a motion lead by the United Kingdom, claiming that rescue boats would encourage more people to enter the European Union through the Mediterranean.

Mlada Bukovansky, a professor of government concluded the panel with focus on the politics of the refugee crisis and how certain right-wing, anti-refugee political groups have gained popularity in the past months.

While some countries, such as Greece, have welcomed refugees with open arms, conservative nations like Hungary have taken measures to keep their borders closed. In early September, Hungary built a fence on its southern border with Serbia and on parts of its border with Croatia, in addition to using violent police force to repel refugees attempting to enter.