Life jackets emblazoned with the testimonials of refugees have lined the Arts Quad this week — a nod to the over 30 thousand refugees who have perished trying to reach Europe, the Independent reported — in just one in a series of events organized by student groups to highlight one of the world’s most pressing humanitarian crises.
Now in its fourth year, the “Week of Action for Refugees” involves an array of events, including a photo campaign and a panel discussion celebrating refugee work in the community, according to the event’s Facebook page.
The week-long initiative is organized by Cornell Welcomes Refugees (CWR) in partnership with 12 other student organizations, including Cornell International Students Union and Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine.
“Given the current geopolitical climate, there is widespread hostility in the media and society towards refugees and asylum seekers,” Tarannum Sahar ’20, former president of CWR and an organizer of the Week of Action told The Sun. “Through the Week of Actions, we hope to mobilize the community and encourage a better understanding of the global refugee crisis.”
“Being at Cornell and within the United States, we tend to forget what is happening beyond the borders,” she continued. “There is a whole world out there where people are fleeing genocide, ethnic cleansing and persecution every day.”
Almost 25 million individuals are currently displaced from their native countries, with well over half once from the war-torn nations of South Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That number grows by at least 50,000 people a day, pushed from their homes by conflict, persecution or terrorism.
Throughout the Week of Action, the conglomerate of student groups will raise funds for Humanity Crew, an international aid organization that provides mental health and social support for refugees.
Lauren Gillott ’19, co-president of CWR and another organizer of the Week of Action, lauded the aid group — which has close ties to Cornell — for its life-saving work. A number of Master of Public Administration candidates have served as consultants to the organization for the past two years, she said.
The money raised for Humanity Crew will be used to train volunteers on how to counsel refugees, many of whom have been psychologically scarred by their precarious living situations, according to Gillot.
One recent study published by Wayne State University estimated that one-third of adult Syrian refugees resettled in the United States met the criteria for PTSD diagnosis — a rate higher than Vietnam War veterans.
“While strong and resilient, this is a population who have often experienced a lot of trauma and deserve emergency mental health care and psychosocial support to rebuild,” Gillot said.
Gillot expressed hopes that the Week of Action would create a way for students to learn about the struggles of refugees and to celebrate the contributions they have made to our society at large.
“With the rhetoric in the media right now, and with the current immigration policy crisis going around the globe and in the US, it’s a really important topic to be aware of,” she said. “It’s the crisis of our time.”