On a Lost Boy in Louisville

Daniel Solomon’s piece, A Lost Boy in Louisville: One Refugee’s Story, is an important read — both to begin to tease out the intersections of identity that individuals resettled exist in, but also to remember how much work still needs to happen after arrival. (also: kudos to Solomon for articulating things I saw working in Memphis that defied my vocabulary at the time.)

[Deng] Manyoun’s life in Louisville—and in Nashville before that—cannot alone be explained by the discrimination he confronted as a person of color. Rather, his story illustrates the ways in which local racial and social inequalities can exacerbate the already complex and often difficult process of refugee resettlement. In Manyoun’s case, his continuous encounters with adversity, his homelessness, his unemployment, and his alcoholism point to one of the shortcomings of refugee resettlement programs in the United States: the limited and short-term public support that these programs provide are inadequate for supporting refugees’ protracted transition from countries in conflict to the American cities in which they are resettled.

Resettlement programs claim to help refugees fulfill the most ambitious of American dreams: of “self-reliance and individual responsibility,” as the U.S. State Department has put it. With hard work and a bit of perseverance, the logic goes, a better life is possible for those fleeing some of the world’s gravest atrocities. But for too many, this rhetoric of self-reliance obscures the harsh consequences of limited public assistance and inadequate long-term social support offered by resettlement programs. They are simply not enough to achieve the self-sufficiency that resettlement programs advertize, nor, as in Manyoun’s case, even survive. In time, many tens of thousands of refugees who are resettled in the United States each year do “make it”: they become citizens, find gainful employment, and actively contribute to their local communities. We have much to learn from the stories of those who do not.

Manyoun’s move to the United States may have brought him sanctuary from a life of war and impoverishment in southern Sudan. But the scant and temporary measures on which he subsisted were not enough to help him survive. The consequences of poverty were further compounded by the racism that people of color regularly confront in Louisville. Refugees from Syria that the United States has pledged to admit in greater numbers will no doubt encounter similar racism and xenophobia unless we confront the stigma that currently colors debates about their resettlement.

There is much the U.S. government can do to assist refugees fleeing from the world’s worst violence—starting with admitting its fair share. Regardless of the quality of our resettlement programs, the expansion of refugee admissions is a matter of unequivocal moral obligation. But that same moral obligation also requires that we think seriously about what happens after resettlement. Sustainable and robust resettlement assistance is every bit as crucial to the fulfillment of our moral duty of offering a true sanctuary for those fleeing war. Without it, the refuge we offer is little more than an empty promise.

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On debates re: European burden sharing

On finding inspiration

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Beyond thankful that my singular wish of 2015 – to see Hamilton – came true! The cast album is certainly wonderful, but the brilliance of the live experience is something I won’t soon forget. Happy to report the show exceeded my (very high) expectations and deserves every superlative.

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While in NYC, K and I tried to absorb as much other inspiration as we could. ANHM and the Hayden Planetarium playfully reminded us how much more there is to the universe beyond our day jobs and research.

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Piet Mondrian, Composition No. 11, with Red and Blue (1929)

MoMA was another favorite stop – I appreciated getting to see the work up close, brushstrokes and pencil guidelines and all. Coming home full of creative inspiration makes the transition back to CET and thesis writing a little less brutal. (Also: the knowledge that we flew out before the east coast shut down due to blizzard Jonas!)

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Piet Mondrian, Composition No. 11, with Red and Blue (1929)

On podcasts: Freakonomics and Migration

From a recent Freakonomics podcast, Is Migration a Basic Human Right?, Michael Clemens briefly mentions the global resettlement response for Hungarians in 1956 as a moment in history to learn from when thinking about the global response to Syria today —

CLEMENS: We know exactly how to handle this refugee crisis because this is not the first time, by any means, that this has happened. Think back to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. In the space of a few months, 200,000 Hungarians fled a Soviet crackdown in and around Budapest, and ended up across the border in Austria — desperate people fleeing for their lives.  One of two things could have happened:  They could have been put in camps; they could have been shunted from one country to another as everybody played beggar-thy-neighbor, trying to get rid of these people. Or they could have been assisted by a broad coalition of countries around the world. Fortunately, what actually happened is the second one. Thirty-seven countries came together through the U.N. and an organization that later became the International Organization for Migration. They sat down, they shared responsibility for assisting those Hungarians broadly. Some of them went to the U.S., some to Canada, some stayed in Austria, some to Germany.  Some went to Paraguay, some went to Colombia, New Zealand — all over the world.  And because of that sharing, they ended up being massively beneficial to the places they went. The cinematographer of Ghostbusters was one of them, who moved to L.A. as a kid. The founder of Intel Corporation, which probably made the chip in your phone or computer, was one of them — tremendously beneficial, but only because of a choice. And it was the choice to broadly share responsibility for assisting them. They could have been turned into a burden, just an expense to keep them alive in the camps.  Instead they were turned into a resource, in fact, a gift. That’s exactly what Syrians could be.  The numbers involved are not numbers that would overwhelm a broad group of countries.  They are numbers that can overwhelm one, two, or three countries if other countries don’t assist those places where all of them are ending up.  And that’s what’s happening right now, and it’s a terrible shame, not just for the migrants but for the countries that could benefit from those people if they were willing to do what’s necessary to turn them into a resource.  It is bitterly ironic that Hungary, which was the source of many refugees in living memory is turning them away.  

(links in original transcript)

On introductions and pep talks

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Bonus perk of working out of UNHCR’s archives this week? Getting to watch the new UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi’s introductory remarks to the HQ —

“UNHCR is navigating extraordinarily difficult waters,” Grandi said. “The combination of multiple conflicts and resulting mass displacement, fresh challenges to asylum, the funding gap between humanitarian needs and resources, and growing xenophobia is very dangerous. The road ahead is a challenging one, but I hope that  working with governments, civil society, and other partners  we will make progress in ensuring international protection and improved living conditions for millions of refugees, internally displaced and stateless people.”

On creative solutions [2]

UDI’s Director, Frode Forfang, recently wrote a blog post about rethinking the international refugee regime (det internasjonale flyktningregimet) by – if I understand him correctly – doing away with asylum in favor of a European-based quota system —

La oss tenke oss et helt annet system. Et system der Europa hvert år tok imot opptil flere hundre tusen flyktninger på kvote og fordelte dem mellom landene. Antallet kunne variere fra år til år og tilpasses den aktuelle flyktningsituasjonen. I et Europa med rundt 500 millioner innbyggere, ville det vært en relativt overkommelig oppgave. En forutsetning for å skape folkelig og politisk vilje til noe slikt, er imidlertid at det eksisterende systemet der retten til å søke asyl er grunnlaget for det internasjonale flyktningregimet, opphører i sin nåværende form.

He ends by noting,

Å endre det internasjonale flyktningregimet er selvsagt ingen enkel sak. Retten til å søke asyl er en del av folkeretten. Også EU-retten regulerer dette. En endring må ha et humanitært grunnlag, og må blant annet kunne sikre flyktninger en akutt nødhavn. Men en ny ordning må også ta utgangspunkt i en erkjennelse av at dagens system verken ivaretar grunnleggende humanitære prinsipper eller statenes rett til å styre innvandringen. I mellomtiden står asylretten sterkt som det eneste alternativet vi har.

It unleashed a whole host of responses —

related: 07.01.2016: UDI-direktøren oppsummerte asylåret 2015 (UDI)