Skip to main content

Jackson School holds inaugural conference on global migration crises and human rights

October 18, 2016

Conference ideas and conversations illustrated by graphic recorder Kristine Sogn

The Jackson School of International Studies, in partnership with the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, hosted a public conference on Friday, October 14 on “The Global Migration Crisis and Human Rights.”

The all-day event brought together over a hundred academics, students, NGO professionals, civil society activists and community members who discussed the evolving trends in international migration crises, with a focus on root causes and the role of government and non-profit actors.

In his opening remarks, Jackson School Director Reşat Kasaba spoke of the importance of the conference, especially during these times and reiterated the school’s commitment to research and promotion of these topics.

Kasaba was followed by Mr. John Hempelmann, president of the board at the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, one the event’s core sponsors, who emphasized the commitment of the Foundation to connect a broad range of experts on global issues such as refugee crises and forced migration to policymakers, and to engage the greater public.

“I hope that we can come up with some concrete ideas we can then pass on to our elected officials,” he said.

Mr. John Hempelmann, president of the board at the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, opens the conference on global migration and human rights in Kane Hall on Oct. 14, 2016

Mr. John Hempelmann, president of the board at the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, opens the conference on global migration and human rights in Kane Hall on Oct. 14, 2016

From global to local: resettling in Washington state
The first panel titled “Voices of Migrants and Local NGOs” discussed the evolving trends in the role of local nongovernment and government agencies in helping resettle refugees. Nicky Smith, Executive Director of the International Rescue Committee of Seattle, spoke about the increase in global displacement with the main exporting countries being Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and South Sudan.

She also mentioned how refugee camps are slowly being replaced by heavily populated urban areas as a prime destination for refugees. Washington state remains committed as a refugee-hosting state, keeping its place as one of the top 10 resettling states in the U.S., she noted.

The second speaker Jennifer Malloy, Program Manager at the Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance in Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, emphasized the issue of employment and social safety nets as a problematic area for newcomers.

For example, newly settled refugees receive merely eights months of state support. But Washington, she said, still has pretty good employment options as well as fairly welcoming communities.

Panelist Amina Ahmed, Director and Founder of Partner in Employment, highlighted the issue of employment as key. “People come with different sets of skills, sometimes highly educated, and sometimes after being for many years in refugee camps. The focus of the NGO is to support them by giving English as a Second Language classes and trainings.”

The last member on the panel was Integration Specialist Dr. Faried Alani of Sea Mar Community Heath Centers. Prior to arriving in the U.S. as a refugee, he was the former head of orthopedic surgery in Alkarkh General Hospital in Baghdad.

Sharing his personal story, Dr. Alani described in detail the challenges refugees face: “I was forced to leave. I sacrificed a career and a home I loved. My children had to leave friends and family. But I was fortunate to use my skills as well as build on my education. Most refugees have a lot of challenges, language barriers, even if there is an interpreter in the room when getting medical care, for example.”

Panelist Amina Ahmed, Director and Founder of Partner in Employment

Panelist Amina Ahmed, Director and Founder of Partner in Employment

Analyzing root causes of forced migration
The group also focused on root causes of forced migration, discussing economic and political causes of migration and their relation to the governance of migration.

Professor Reşat Kasaba spoke about the connection between international relations and stability, noting root causes of migration in the Middle East and detailing the collapse of the state system and war in  Iraq, and mismanagement of U.S. occupation.

Kasaba insisted that “There is not enough discussion about a moral framework and how should the international system be reshaped, especially as the conversation surrounding the refugee issue is dominated by security.”

The second panelist was Professor Ricardo Gomez from the School of Information. Gomez said migrants all have a story that is three-fold: the home country; the journey (transition); and, the destination. Gomez explored what motivates people to migrate as well as how migrants think back on their country of origin.

The last featured speaker in this panel was Michael Bowers, Vice President of Humanitarian Leadership and Response at Mercy Corps: “Over 65 million people are currently uprooted, and the primary driver is conflict, replacing natural disasters as a primary cause just over a decade ago. The average protracted displacement today is 26 years. By the time this talk ends, about 240 more people will be forcibly displaced.”

Exploring the governance gap
Another topic explored was current migration to Europe, Canada and the United States, and adequacy of existing national, regional and international frameworks for refugee protection.

The first speaker, professor and European Studies scholar at the University of Victoria Oliver Schmidtke, addressed the response of European nations to the refugee crisis with a focus on the response of civil society. In relation to the EU’s management of the situation, Schmidtke said that “while Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel hoped for a pan-European response, what happened was a lack of effective coordination and policy making, each country trying to protect itself.”

The second panelist Emerita Professor of International Migration at Georgetown University, Prof. Susan Martin, gave an overview of U.S. commitment to leadership of refugee issues. “Most recently we see the U.S. reducing its admission of asylum seekers as refugees because of global terrorism. There is a strong connection between foreign policy and humanitarian response and we fail separating terrorism from refugees and conflate the two because often there is an overlap between terror and refugee producing countries.”

Associate Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch Judith Sunderland, focused on what she called European Union (EU) abuses of human rights, emphasizing that “EU partnerships in dealing with third country migration control is at the core of EU relations, but this focus on controlling migration flows turns on its head historic commitments to human rights.” 

Conference panelists and graphic recorder Kristine Sogn

Conference panelists and graphic recorder Kristine Sogn

Examining the vital role of civil society 
The last panel highlighted the growing role of civil society in managing forced migration crises. Michigan State University Professor Stephanie Nawyn said: “The real crisis is the arrival of masses or refuges that meet refusal to offer them forms of protection. NGOs moved into that space and perform tasks that were historically done by governments.”

Panelist Jeff Crisp, former Head of Development and Evaluation at UNHCR, offered a bit of optimism highlighting the fact that many states keep their gates open, like Uganda accepting South Sudanese refugees. He also praised civil society actors for their positive involvement mentioning local initiatives in Syria as well as the presence of volunteers offering private rescue boats in the Mediterranean.

The last speaker was University of Washington Anthropologist Megan Carney. Carney gave her personal account on grassroots activism based on field work she conducted in Italy. “Italy is a struggling state facing economic recession and is overwhelmed by refugees which results in human rights violations. Civil society grassroots actors have done phenomenal work in stepping in and creatively providing local solutions aid and relief.”

Throughout the conference a graphic recorder, Kristine Sogn, synthesized the energy, information and ideas that were discussed into a visual format that was displayed in the closing session.

All the panels were moderated by the conference organizers Jackson School professors Sara Curran, Kathie Friedman and Sabine Lang, as well as the executive director of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, Lara Iglitzin.

Conference graphic illustration by Kristine Sogn

Conference graphic illustration by Kristine Sogn

Throughout the meeting, Jackson School graduate students led table discussions on the issues presented and questions raised by the panelists, collecting and collating audience response.

This event was made possible through the generous support of The Henry M. Jackson Foundation and is co-sponsored by UW’s Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, Center for Global Studies, Center for Human Rights and Center for West European Studies.