Cornell Amnesty International is displaying the flags of five countries on the Arts Quad this week to draw attention to the plight of multitudes of refugees who hail from these nations.
“The display was inspired by the sheer number of refugees that have been forced to flee their homes in the past two decades,” said Fiona Boomer ’18, Amnesty International programming chair. “So many people have no place to go, and we wanted to express how big the problem truly is.”
The display features flags from Palestine, Syria, Sudan, Iraq and Somalia, accompanied by information about the conflicts in these countries, according to Boomer.
Boomer said they chose these nations because they have had the highest numbers of “displaced citizens under refugees status” in the recent decades, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Statistical Yearbook.
Zach de Stefan ’18, secretary of Amnesty International, said the organization chose to display flags on the Arts Quad because they wanted the display to make a powerful statement and catch people’s attention.
Kyle Friend ’17, treasurer of Amnesty International, explained that the display is made up of 250 flags with 50 flags per country. The Department of Near Eastern Studies and Amnesty International at Cornell provided funding for the display, according to Friend.
“It’s important to bring to light the hardships that refugees endure as they seek asylum,” said Grace Bogdanove ’18, urgent action coordinator of Amnesty International. “Amnesty International aims to protect and advocate for the human rights of all people, and refugees are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations.”
There are more than four million Syrian refugees, 6.6 million Palestinian refugees, one million Somali refugees, more than 500,000 Sudanese refugees and 1.4 million Iraqi refugees, according to the UNHCR Statistical Yearbook.
The flag display is part of the Week of Action — a week to raise awareness about the problems refugees face — that will culminate in the Syrian Refugees Gala on Saturday.
Bogdanove called the decision to deviate from the Syrian focus of this Week of Action and to include information about several other affected countries the “most difficult part of the project.”
Bogdanove added that the organization spent approximately three weeks budgeting items and researching the refugee crisis, asking members to dedicate time outside of normal meetings.
De Stefan said he initially decided to help lead the effort to expand his understanding of the global migrant dilemma.
“Everyone has seen the viral images online or in the news of migrants trying, and often dying, to reach Europe,” he said. “But how many of us actually understand the political, economic and social factors that have perpetuated this crisis in countries around the world?”
De Stefan said the display has the potential to change people’s opinions, especially since Ithaca is considering opening its doors to refugees this year.
“I am constantly inspired by the motivation, tenacity and spirit exhibited by my fellow members and activists, all of whom share a collective vision for a better world,” de Stefan said.