CTAUN Conference: Refugees: the 21st Century Challenge Morning Panel 1 Issues

The Morning Panel on Issues, was moderated by Rima Salah, of the UN High Level Panel on Peace Operations, a native of Jordan and herself a refugee.

Bill Frelick, Refugee Rights Program Director, Human Rights Watch, began by saying he had revised his talk because of President Trump’s first-week actions, and the impact they will have on the United States’ long-time role as a leader for refugees. Forty percent of the budget for the High Commission for Refugees comes from the United States, and, perhaps more important, in the past the United States has shown moral leadership – leading the acceptance of the New York Declaration last September and President Obama’s calling a summit of world leaders immediately after to get concrete commitments toward ensuring the safety and rights of migrants and refugees and stabilizing the nations they come from and settle in.

The New York Declaration condemned racism, xenophobia, etc., and recognized the responsibility of all nations for refugees, with richer nations supporting the mostly poorer host countries. The United States had led the way by pledging $1 billion more to supporting solutions and accepting 100,000 more refugees This is in question now, under Mr. Trump. Walls are not a solution, he declared, to much applause.



CTAUN Conference Morning Session – 2 Refugee Statistics and Language

Refugee Statistics

Emily Garin, of UNICEF, reminded us that our task is to spread the facts about the UN and about migration. Over half of all migrants move within their own regions. Migration overall is a great benefit, she said, if it is voluntary, and protections for those migrating are assured. Unfortunately, this is not the case today, when there are 28 million forcibly displaced children, 17 million within their own borders. Many of these will become refugees. Increasingly, there are significantly more displaced than voluntary migrants. More than half of these are children.

Like several other speakers, Ms. Garin stressed that most of those hosting refugees are not high-income countries: Syria and Afghanistan host more than half of all refugees; Turkey (with over a million refugees), Jordan (20% of its population are refugees), Lebanon, Yemen . . . all need international support to take care of the refugees who come to them.

Children face the highest risks, especially when separated from their families. They are subject to detention, violence and abuse, and are five times more likely to be out of school than those with their families. Many are also stateless, born in flight, and so have no documentation; this will affect their whole lives. What can we do? Work against detention of children and to keep families together.

Refugees and Language

Mark Harris, President Emeritus of ELS Educational Services, called language the key to refugees’ integration into their new countries, and reminded us that being multi-lingual is essential for global citizenship. Refugees need to quickly learn the language of their host country, both so they can move about independently and so they can find employment. He reminded us that many of the refugees are highly educated and were well-employed before they had to flee. However, fifty-five percent of all refugees now are from Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria, and so most speak Arabic. The languages of many host countries are unrelated linguistically to Arabic, like Turkish and Farsi. This makes their transition more difficult than it would be if they spoke a language related to that of the host country.

Three principles of language related to refugees:

  • Having a common language with the host country defuses xenophobia.
  • If children are exposed to the local language, they can learn it quickly.
  • In refugee camps most teachers are not fluent in the language of the host country, making learning the host language more difficult for refugees.

Germany has a model program: as soon as someone applies for asylum, the government provides 700+ hours of language and cultural training.

Mr. Harris urged us to remember that refugees want to work and provide for their families. Given language skills, they have the potential to participate in and be productive members of society.