by Lidia Koljancic
On the occasion of World Refugee Day, Christopher Swain, a courageous, experienced swimmer and advocate for refugees, swam two miles across New York Harbor, from the Statue of Liberty to Manhattan, then walked four miles to the United Nations, to bring attention to the millions of people forced to leave their native countries by persecution and war in the worst refugee crisis since World War II. His aim was to highlight the vital work of the UN for saving lives, protecting rights and trying to build a better future for refugees.
The event was part of a fundraising effort of the UNA-USA Westchester Chapter to support schooling for child refugees in Kenya as part of the UNA-USA and USA for UNHCR “Adopt a Future” campaign.
At a reception in the conference room of the UN Foundation, Rachel Bowen Pittman, UNA-USA Senior Membership Director, greeted Christopher. Ninette Kelley, Director of its New York Office, spoke on behalf of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and former Kenya ambassador to the UN Bob Jalang’o, of the UNA Westchester Chapter, described the “Adopt a Future” campaign and the schooling efforts in refugee camps in his country.
Christopher Swain gave a very moving speech -- not just the words of an heroic swimmer but also the words of a descendant of refugees from the Irish Potato Famine, an American who advocates for a strong positive role for the USA in the world, and a father who wants a bright future for his and others’ daughters. He urged that we recognize the refugee and immigrant heritage of most of us, that we realize the USA could use its role and resources as a global superpower to change the lives of millions of refugees, and that as humans we can and should embrace all of our human family.
The message of the evening was that World Refugee Day must be important for each of us: We are all humans. In supporting the “Adopt a Future” campaign we should care for and give to refugee children as if they were our own – for ultimately they are. It is still possible to make donations. Your donations will be matched by a generous philanthropist.
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by Mikhail Shklyarevsky
The United Nations Secretary General recently stressed the responsibility countries have to help refugees assimilate. On March 28, 2017, Antonio Guterres visited the Za'atari Refugee Camp in northern Jordan and remarked that "solidarity with Syrian refugees is...not only an act of generosity, it's an act of enlightened self-interest."
Guterres referred to refugees who have been forced to leave war-torn countries like Syria, perilously journeying to an unwelcoming and politically-polarized European Union. Guterres was elected Secretary General in January 2017, based largely on his work as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. According to a United Nations Press Release, from June 2005 to December 2015, Guterres managed conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
Syrians still need help. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 6.3 million have been displaced in Syria and more than 13 million need humanitarian assistance. Unfortunately, because of the politics and strife in the Arab world, many of them have not been able to receive the assistance they need.
Consequently, these displaced people have braved the venture to Europe, where they hope to restart their lives. Those who belonged to the middle and upper classes in their countries have an advantage - their professional skills can be an asset to the economies and societies of various European countries. There are many ways European countries can assist refugees in their assimilation into a new and foreign society.
It is to the Europeans’ advantage to help with the assimilation process as refugees from the Arab world will likely stay in Europe. Europeans must attempt to empathize with their new neighbors; refugees fled their native countries due to civil unrest and Europeans cannot reasonably expect them to return to a perilous fate. As a result, European authorities and the United Nations will not likely be able to enforce ways to convince them to leave Europe and need to avoid deporting them. Otherwise, European authorities risk the possibility that these refugees could turn to criminal activity because of their desperation to provide for their families.
Considering these risks, European authorities instead need to make an effort to utilize the refugees' skills and build them up in the local societies. Hassan, an asylum applicant from Afghanistan, exemplifies such potential skills. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Hassan volunteers for the Federal Volunteers Service, a nation-wide, government-run volunteer program to help new arrivals resettle in Germany. Such volunteers can help to foster cooperation and trust between Europeans and refugees by eroding the stigma of terrorism associated with Muslims. Volunteers such as Hassan also exemplify that the process of assimilating refugees from the Arab world can be successful with the right opportunities, such as encouraging prospects and offering guidance to child refugees. These programs provide hope for the prospects of refugees in a politically-polarized Europe.
The European Union and the United Nations need to support people like Hassan as leaders in their communities. Government entities could create programs in which dedicated and determined Europeans help with developing such leaders. Once these leaders have developed the necessary skills, they can work with Europeans to create various programs to develop the skills and minds of refugee children. Europeans of Arab and African descent could particularly play an important work role in such programs because they may share cultural similarities with the refugees.
Despite the good intentions of these programs, it is possible that the parents of child refugees could become concerned about their children abandoning religious traditions during the assimilation activities. In such cases, the Europeans could find a compromise, such as observing the traditions and finding a substitute for the activity. European authorities and the United Nations could use such compromises to justify their investment of time and resources in helping refugees, ensuring a secure economic, social and political future for Europe.
With such investment in the assimilation of refugees, the European Union and the United Nations are effectively encouraging their acceptance. By working more closely with refugees, Europeans can understand the benefits of living alongside them. Simultaneously, European authorities and the United Nations are allowing refugees to find their niches in this new order and better understand the process of assimilation into European society. As a result, they have provided these groups with ways to realize their "enlightened self-interest" with choices that can allow them to live together in peace.
by Joanna Blaz, UNA-SNY YP Social and Economic Development Committee Director
Fashion models sprinkled a bit of nature into our concrete jungle Wednesday night. Each holding a leaf or flower, models from the sustainable clothing brand Susty walked the National Arts Club runway, their re-purposed shirts urging the audience to “recycle” and “live responsibly.” As some got to the end, they twirled a rose or carnation over their heads: a small symbol that we’re together in the effort to protect our planet.
The fashion show kicked off this year’s United Nations Association-Young Professionals annual Cocktail Event & Awards ceremony. Each of the guests reflected a few of the core issues that UNA-YP advocates: sustainability, international development and refugee aid.