Courtesy of Kristine Lister

Life jackets line the Arts Quad bearing testimonials from refugees who have crossed the Mediterranean Sea as part of the Week of Action for Refugees

April 23, 2017

Cornell Hosts Week of Action for Refugees

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A conglomerate of campus groups will hold a series of events this week to raise awareness about the current refugee crisis as part of a “Week of Action for Refugees” at Cornell.

In its second year, the week of action from April 22 to 29 will include a wide array of activities and events, including a display on the Arts Quad, a lecture and discussion on the Syrian conflict and refugee crisis, tabling to build support for Cornell becoming a sanctuary campus and a refugee support gala.

“Ithaca is a culture hub of refugees and one of the most diverse cities in the United States in terms of refugee population,” said Salma Shitia ’18, the founder and president of Cornell Welcomes Refugees and president of the Arab Student Association.

Historically known as a sanctuary place for refugees, Ithaca has been taking Burmese, Russian, Afghan and Iraqi refugees for resettlement since the 1980s, Shitia said.

From Sunday to Wednesday, 36 life jackets will be displayed on the Arts Quad as a reminder of the thousands of refugees who have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

Under the tagline, “How much longer will the Mediterranean remain a graveyard for migrants,” testimonials from refugees who crossed the sea will be shown on the life jackets so that people can read the thought-provoking quotes.

Helen Shanahan ’18, co-facilitator of Amnesty International at Cornell, said this display is inspired by a Belgian group, which exhibited life jackets on a much larger scale.

“We used this group’s resources and also conducted extensive research to find these quotes from people who successfully crossed the Mediterranean,” Shanahan said.

Cornell’s Amnesty International group, as part of last year’s week of action, placed flags on campus representing the top five countries from which refugees were coming. Shanahan believes this year’s display, transformed from last year’s, will be more personal and powerful.

“One guy talks about being forced overboard in the chaos of the ship and thinking he was actually going to die,” she said, describing one of the testimonials to be displayed on a life jacket this week. “It is very impactful to hear from people who actually experienced it.”

A life jacket wrapped around a statue of Ezra Cornell on the Arts Quad late on Sunday evening as part of the Week of Action for Refugees

Courtesy of Kristine Lister

A life jacket wrapped around a statue of Ezra Cornell on the Arts Quad late on Sunday evening as part of the Week of Action for Refugees

In addition to the life jackets display, the United Nations Association of the U.S.A. Cornell Chapter will also put up signs listing facts about migrants and immigrants on the Arts Quad.

Cornell University’s South Asian Council and Cornell University Sustainable Design, on Tuesday, will present a crash course on the refugee crisis and the Syrian conflict from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Following the short presentation, students will have a discussion on possible next steps over free samosas and lassi.

All the events during the Week of Action for Refugees will culminate in the Refugee Support Gala on Saturday, which will not only celebrate different languages and cultures around the world, but also collect funds that will go directly towards the refugees.

“The funds will help the refugees pay off their loans for their flight tickets to the United States as well as their housing,” Shitia said.

Artwork created by Cornell students focusing on a theme of “reimagining borders” will be shown around the gala, which will also include a guest speaker from Ithaca Welcomes Refugees, music and dance performances, raffles, henna tattoo and more.

Besides taking part in these events to learn more about the crisis, Shitia also welcomes students to contact Cornell Welcomes Refugees to get more involved.

“As more refugees are resettling, there are a lot of opportunities for students to interact with the refugees and help them through finding jobs, training for interviews, building resumes, teaching English to non-native English speakers” and more, she said.

The week’s events are sponsored by a host of groups, including Amnesty International at Cornell University, Cornell University Sustainable Design, Arab Student Association at Cornell, Cornell University’s South Asian Council, Cornell Welcomes Refugees, the United Nations Association of the United States of America, Cornell Chapter, Cornell DREAM Team and Cornell International Students Union.