Tuesday evening, the Columbia Museum of Art hosted the Carolina Peace Resource Center for a panel on the global refugee crisis for World Refugee Day. Caroline Nagel, Thomas Hammond and Deborah Billings were the panelists. Each member shared insight on an issue that has become a big part of the current political climate.
Caroline Nagel opened the panel by informing attendees of the origins and historical context of refugees and asylum-seekers. The French Huguenots were some of the first refugee groups to be sent to South Carolina in the late 1600s. In 1951, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) established the legal definition of refugee, which in summary is “a person unable to return to their country of origin due to fear and persecution.”
When discussing America’s response to the refugee crisis, she included the Skittles graphic from a Donald Trump Jr. tweet stating, “If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian Refugee problem.” According to Nagel, America resettles more refugees than any other country with 85,000 in 2016, the highest number in 15 years. 12,587 of those are Syrian refugees.
However, she said the global refugee crisis is not centered in the United States or Europe. Most of the refugees are displaced in countries like Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iran and Pakistan. Nagel explained how the “number of refugees we permit to settle are small compared to other countries.” Individuals that end up in the camps in other countries often receive status as a “non-person.”
“Almost every 20 minutes, people are leaving their homes because of war,” said Nagel. “The shift now is to repatriate them so they can rebuild their homes.”
Thomas Hammond, another panelist, spent a month visiting Middle Eastern countries and was able to spend time over the Syrian border. He shared that in many places there were no schools or playgrounds, and the children were always smiling in the pictures he showed because they were so excited to see something new.
“We tend to put more resources into fighting instead of helping people,” Hammond said. “I met a man that said he didn’t want charity, just the opportunity to work.”
There’s a glimmer of hope to be found amidst the chaos. He spent time with a family that had children who attended the Al Salam School in southern Turkey that opened in 2012. The wife stayed home instead of going out to find work because her children having the opportunity to have an education was so important to her.
The school has around 2000 students enrolled with 1000 waiting to go. That number is growing as more Syrian refugees enter the country. Al Salam is staffed by former Syrian teachers and refugees in order to support them and give them a livelihood.
The panel concluded with a question and answer session.
To learn more about Carolina Peace Center, their involvement in supporting refugees, and how you can help, visit carolinapeace.org.