Saturday, February 4, 2017

Shifting Focus: Refugee Crisis in Developing World

Photo: A Syrian refugee praying at the water station in Zaatari camp, Jordan
Shifting Focus: Refugee Crisis in Developing World
By Bidya Subedi, MNA

On the first day of our AGI-Rome Program, we met with Fr. Thomas Smolich from Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). JRS plays a critical role in educating refugees to help them interact and communicate with other people on camp and most importantly to build skills to response to the emergency crisis. During his presentation, Fr. Smolich said, “86% of forcibly displaced people are hosted by developing countries.” Furthermore, according to UNHCR (2016), the top refugee-hosting countries were Turkey (2.5 million), Pakistan (1.6 million), Lebanon (1.1 million), Iran (979,400), Ethiopia (736,100), and Jordon (664,100). However, European Union’s top receiving countries were Germany with more than 300,000 and Sweden with 100,00. The numbers provided by Fr. Smolich’s presentation and UNHCR surprised me because it contradicted with my as well as most Westerners understanding of refugee crisis. UNHCR: Figures at Glace

Initially, I was surprised to learn that Pakistan and other developing countries were hosting a large number of refugees than the European countries because most of these countries are facing their own economic and social challenges. In fact, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres highlighted that “The economic, social and human cost of caring of refugees and the internally displaced is being borne mostly by poor communities, those who are least able to afford it.” Full Report: UNHCR report shows world’s poorest countries host most refugees.

Figure: Top hosting countries, UNHCR

While in Rome, we met one of the refugees who fled his home country, Kenya, because of political reasons and for safety. He said “You become a refugee not by choice. It can happen to anyone.” Thousands of people from Africa, Middle East, and Asia arrive in European shores because they have no choice. They were the victims of war and conflict, poverty, unemployment, natural disasters, and human trafficking. Since the situations in home country is not getting better and transit countries, like Turkey and Libya, are dealing with their own economic, political and social issues, refugees are forced to make their move to European countries for safety and better opportunities. Christopher Hein from Italian Refugee Council touched on this issue during our meeting in Rome. He mentioned that in 2011-2013, all the Syrian refugees were residing in Turkey and other neighboring countries in the hope to go back to their country. The decision to make their journey to Europe was only taken when there was no hope to return to their countries. Then came reasons such as possibilities of work or jobs and economic stabilities in European countries. I think the leaders of European countries should be mindful of the fact that refugees risk their lives to arrive in European coast to escape conflicts and other inhumane circumstances. Economic opportunities are certainly important for refugees, but that is not the primary reason for them to travel to Europe; it is for the safety of their family.

The refugee crisis is a global problem that will require collaboration from all sectors including NGOs, national and international government, private businesses and companies, and local communities. The organizations we met in Rome, including Programma Integra, Caritas, Centro Astalli and the representatives of Italian Refugee Council, JRS and UNHCR understand that rather than focusing on expelling refugees, we must shift our focus toward inclusion and integration process and invest in infrastructures, such as education, water system, hospitals, etc., in their home country. When addressing refugee crisis, integration should not only be about providing basic needs. Integration should also take in consideration where refugees come from and the trauma they carry. Investing in integration process that includes language classes and social networking will provide an opportunity for refugees to understand the culture and increase their likelihood to assimilate wherever they choose to stay.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Beyond Empathy: Action Over Pity

Beyond Empathy: Action Over Pity
By Soka Keo

The Academic Global Immersion (AGI) Rome Program in the School of Management at the University of San Francisco (USF) gives graduate students the unique opportunity to learn about the complexities of the refugee and migrant crises in Europe, more specifically what are the challenges in Italy and what is being done (UNHCR Facts and Figures, Italy). I was really excited for the opportunity to participate in the AGI-Rome Program but I knew this experience would be very emotional and personal for me.

To give you some background information, my parents were once refugees. My parents survived the war and genocide in Cambodia in the late-1970s (The Cambodian Genocide). My parents were forced to leave their homes, loved ones, and the country they loved so deeply. Fortunately, my parents were given the opportunity to have a better life and they were granted political asylum and immigrated to the United States in the early 1980s. As soon as my parents were able to make a new life for themselves, they dedicated their lives to helping those in need. My mom’s work with the UNHCR and various international NGOs gave me the opportunity to travel abroad and gain exposure to human rights violations, human trafficking, and refugees and forced migration issues throughout South East Asia. As a child, I knew how to spell the word refugee before I knew how to spell the word butterfly. This kind of shows you how much exposure I had to refugee crises and humanitarian emergencies while growing up. So before starting the AGI-Rome Program, I wasn’t quite sure how much I would learn, or better yet, what I would gain from participating in the program.

We started off the AGI-Rome program meeting with Father Thomas from Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). Father Thomas gave a presentation on the amazing work of JRS and I was surprised to learn that refugees spend an average of 17 years in displacement. I could only imagine how it would feel like to be in limbo for a year, let alone 17 years. Over the next few days, the topic of integration became a common theme in our guest speakers’ presentations. At Caritas Roma, we talked about how some refugees and migrants are resistant to integrating in Italy. I had thought that all refugees and migrants would be eager to integrate in order to have better opportunities and a better life. I didn’t realize that for some refugees and migrants, Italy is just a passage point in hopes of reaching countries in Northern Europe like Germany and the United Kingdom. It makes sense that some refugees and migrants don’t want to fully assimilate in Italy because there is a lot of uncertainty of what country they will be granted asylum in, if at all.

The most poignant moment in the AGI-Rome Program for me was when we visited CentroAstali and met with Anthony, a refugee from Kenya. He told us about why he and his family had to leave everything behind and flee from Kenya to Italy, a country he’d never heard of before prior to arriving there. He emphasized the message that anyone could become a refugee like him and that one way we could all help was to raise awareness.

As I was flying back home to the United States, I couldn’t help but think about how grateful I was to have the opportunity to participate and learn so much in the AGI-Rome Program. At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the refugees and migrants in Italy, especially for Anthony. It’s been a few weeks since the AGI-Rome program ended and I’ve realized that feeling bad for someone isn’t going to help them unless I take action. Having pity paralyzes one from taking action and making a difference. I remind myself that I can make a difference and so can you no matter how big or small.

To learn how you can help refugees in your community, please check out these links:

Photo: Soka Keo's mom receiving her Certificate of Proficiency in English several months before she immigrated to the United States. Over 35 years later, my mom still remembers the names and faces of every one of her teachers in the refugee camp and processing center.

Inclusive Excellence at USF and Abroad

Pope Francis performs the foot-washing ritual at the Castelnuovo di Porto refugee center near Rome on Holy Thursday. (Osservatore Romano/AFP via Getty)

Inclusive Excellence at USF and Abroad
By Samantha Wilkinson, MNA

At The University of San Francisco, where diversity and human rights are among the most important values, the term “inclusive excellence” is used often to refer to the acceptance of all types of people into the university community. I found myself focused on this familiar phrase often throughout the duration of the 2017 Academic Global Immersion program in Rome. Unfortunately, the week-long course on Humanitarian Emergency Management highlighted how far the world is from reaching inclusive excellence, especially when it comes to our forcibly displaced peoples. Fortunately, the representatives from Jesuit Refugee Services, Programa Integra, Caritas, and UNHCR not only helped us to understand the severity of the current refugee crisis, but they also provided us with solutions that we can use to assist in alleviating the crisis.

On an individual level, informing ourselves and working towards eliminating our personal biases (both conscious and unconscious) are the first and most important actions that must be taken to increase inclusion of refugees in any given host country. Specifically, we must inform ourselves of the policies in host countries, as they have the potential to drive many of the actions and behaviors of refugees. Failing to understand that these actions and behaviors are largely driven by policy can then lead to host country residents forming inaccurate and/or negative perceptions.

Anthony’s testimonial of how he came from Kenya to Italy as a refugee served as a prime example of how increasing awareness can lead to the more accurate formation of perceptions. I found multiple similarities between his life in Kenya and my life in the U.S., further reducing my perception of refugees as different than myself. It was also interesting to hear that Anthony could not legally work when he first arrived in Italy, yet popular perception is that refugees are taking away jobs from locals. It is likely that making this information available to more people would not only reduce discrimination and hostility towards refugees in their host countries, but it could influence collective change as well.

According to Stefan of UNHCR, far right political discourse is largely to blame for the exacerbation of the refugee crisis, proving how important large-scale change is to increasing inclusion of refugees. Those with far-reaching public influence should not only be informing themselves and eliminating their personal biases, but also using their platforms to increase awareness among the public and advocate for policies that encourage the inclusion of refugees. Sending these types of public messages could also lead to a shift in the individual behaviors of host country residents towards refugees. Pope Francis, for example, has been particularly influential in regards to using positive rhetoric surrounding refugees. His compassion and ability to shift political discourse related to refugees is so impressive that it made attending his mass at the Vatican a highlight of the AGI trip.

The AGI program confirmed the idea that solving the refugee crisis begins by understanding that it is a shared responsibility. Effectively and efficiently creating an inclusive environment for refugees in their host countries requires both small and large-scale efforts. While the degree to which small or large-scale efforts are more impactful is debatable, it is clear that one without the other will not yield significant and sustainable enough results.

Saturday, January 21, 2017


Source: AGI Rome photo collection 
Arch or Triumph or Arch of Humility? 
by Marco Tavanti, Ph.D.

During the Academic Global Immersion in Rome #AGIROME students walked through the Triumphal Arch of Titus (81 AD). We also noticed some of the details in the relief panels. One of the images represented the original use of these arches designed to purify the emperor from the blood of battle and to enter into the City of Rome to govern. As he was standing in the chariot with four horses as a sign of human-divine victory, a woman is dressed with wings reminding him to be humble and not to think he is God. "She would hit him with a feather and constantly remind him that he is human and only after his death he will be god" - our expert guide Georgea Colella told us. 

We are reminded of the symbolic meaning of these ancient practices as newly elected President Donald J. Trump attended the Jan. 21, 2017 national prayer service after his inauguration as the 45th US president. Past history carries many lessons for today's unfolding history. The winged woman (later incorporated by Christianity in the figure of angels) represents the superiority of morality into public service. It represents that even top leaders of nations and empires would need to govern with a strong sense of humility in order to better serve the government elected (Senatus) and people (Polupus) of the country (Que Romaus). This is the meaning of the SPQR inscriptions that are seen everywhere in the City of Rome.  

Governance is a leadership service - a public service. A service under the eyes of God and the power of the people - all the people in their diversity of voices and identities. From our tour of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum we learned a perspective of the Roman Empire that tourist hardly ever hear from their guides - a perspective from the slaves, migrants and prostitutes. These people, disenfranchised for the large part, also had a path to freedom and citizenship. After more than 2,000 years, our modern countries can learn something even from the ancient Roman Empire. They can learn that our modern situations of slavery, immigration barriers, and discrimination against refugee protection and integration need to be rooted in our common humanity. 

Apparently, the winged woman reminds us that the journey of public service - even for an empire - requires leaders to be humble and recognize that leadership is a privilege to serve the common good. Learning about governance practice in the Roman Empire carries valuable lessons for today's public service. It reminds us that ethics is the core of our leadership. It reminds us of the core value of democracy as the power in "We the people" (US constitution) and -- at the international level -- of "We the peoples" (UN charter). 

The bronze reproductions of the winged woman (Vittoria Alata) in the horsed chariot stands on top of The Altare della Patria also known as the "National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II" or Il Vittoriano, a well known and controversial structure in the heart of Rome. Ironically, the monument was completed during the rise of the Fascism in Italy and with the advent of absolutist power of Benito Mussolini.

The winged woman in the four horses (quadringa) symbolizes our consciousness. It stands behind all of us in leadership positions and reminds us of our duty as servant leaders and as temporary and humbled stewards for the common good and our common future.


Source: AGI-Rome Program Overview Powerpoint

The Academic Global Immersion #AGIROME Program has evolved!
By Marco Tavanti, PhD

We are proud about the new developments implemented in our third Academic Global Immersion Program (AGI) in Rome. Here are a few reasons and innovative elements that made this yearly  program a high quality experiential learning clearly exemplifying the Jesuit values of social justice and educating women and men for others.

1. Humanitarian Emergency Integration

The AGI-Rome program is now part of a Graduate Program Certificate for the University of San Francisco's School of Management and a preferred elective integrated in the Master of Nonprofit Administration (MNA) Program. This integration is important to further extend the learning quality and career outcomes of a program like this. It is also instrumental to help prepare students who want to change the world for the better through professional careers such as those in humanitarian emergency management.

2. Roma Program Coordination

This year we are grateful for the leadership role that Ms. Chiara Peri of Jesuit Refugee Service Italy and Centro Astalli has taken as the AGI-Rome Program Coordinator. Her role and presence in Rome is essential for the success and impact of our program. She is involved everyday in the struggle of refugees and constantly collaborating with other agencies in Rome. Her knowledge in the field and her personal/professional engagement in these social causes are also an inspiration for our students.

3. High Level Meetings

We met with high level leaders and experts in the field of refugee service management, humanitarian emergencies and Jesuit values. We could not have had these kinds of experiential learning from simply studying in our San Francisco classrooms. For example, some of our students were able to meet personally with Pope Francis, a leader and spokesperson to the cause of global refugees. We also met with the EU representative for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). We met with Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ, the newly elected Superior General of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) worldwide. We met and expanded our collaborative relations with Fr. Tom Smolich, SJ, International Director of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS-Int).

4. Experiential Visits

This year we had more visits with partnering organizations in their offices to provide better context for our students. While logistically it is easier to have leaders coming to us in the conference room of the hotel, maximizing these kind of exposure is extremely important for the experiential learning objective of the program. Students can get a better sense of the organizational managerial and context specific challenges and opportunities happening in these workplaces. We also had a great chance to enjoy the beautiful City of Rome.

5. A Personal Journey

We met and listened to refugees with their compelling stories. These stories embody what we study and give a human face to the efforts we place in understanding policies and best practices in refugee service management. We do not participate in program like this just to experience the refugee crisis through international relations. We primarily participate to understand, analyze and eventually contribute through our research and work as professionals. However, these personal connections and stories are essential to remind us that policies have a human consequences and that statistics are not just numbers but a collection of many stories like those we heard.

6. Follow up commitments

We all shared leadership activities during the immersion. We were impacted by the whole experience and made a commitment to contribute in different ways. Some consented outcomes will be the participation and involvement in the organization of the USF4freedom Conference on April 7, 2017 to share our learning experience with others at USF and connect with San Francisco Bay Area organizations working on refugee service and immigration integration.

7. Social Media Communication

We also implemented and expanded our social media communications before, during and after the  immersion program. These blog posts are an example of this effort. We also tweeted and shared postings on FB and other social media to reach out to our personal, university and organizational networks. Please checkout the #AGIROME hashtags.

8. Students as Colleagues

As Program Director, I am so pleased with the quality and collaborative capacity of our USF students who participated in these programs. They exemplify what the value education of our Jesuit University of San Francisco is all about. They represent transformational leaders and competent agents of change who express compassion and capacity to "Change the World from Here" and anywhere we are in the world. Thank you all! Grazie a Tutti!

READ MORE: Want to read more about the global experiential learning methods of the =#AGIROME program? Check this other Blog  and the referred JNEL article  

WHAT'S NEXT? Stay tuned for the AGI-Rome Programs for next year. Contact me to express your interest in the program and / or suggest other innovative approaches, partnerships and resources that can contribute in any way to the experiential and global values of our educational programs.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Through the Eyes of a Child

Photo: Drawings by children in northern Uganda who witnessed attacks and abductions by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Source: JRS-Int.
Through the Eyes of a Child: The Migrant & Refugee Crisis as Told by the Most Venerable Population
By Clorens Andre, MNA

During the Academic Global Immersion study in Rome we received exposure to how European governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are managing the protracted migration and refugee crisis. Christopher Hein, Spokesman and Strategic Advisor for the Consiglio Italiano per i Rifugiati, taught us about the geopolitical, intergovernmental and international approach to the migrant & refugee crisis. You can learn more about the approach by reading about the 1951 Refugee Convention where the legal obligations of participating nation states to protect displaced people were outlined.

The complexity of the problem and the approaches to solve the problem can seem overwhelming. Civil war, economic hardship and natural disasters are among reasons why people flee their nation of origin. What tend to get lost in these complex issues are the human stories that connect us all. It is important to learn about the stats, stakeholders and strategic plans but what resonated with me the most were individual narratives of human beings seeking humanity in a new land.

UNICEF reports that nearly half of all refugees are children. Through the eyes of a child, one gets an unfiltered, apolitical and agendaless story. Children give a perspective that isn’t muddied by personal motivations. They just want to be children. A refugee from Albania shared a story about her voyage to Italy at 7 years old. She talked about being on a boat with her mother and her two brothers and playing on the boat as if it were an adventure. Her innocence served as a layer of protection from the dangerous and uncertain reality she faced. The picture below was drawn by children in Northern Uganda who witnessed unspeakable violence. This picture serves as a small window into the psychological scars refugee children carry.

As a defenseless and vulnerable refugee population, children are most susceptible to being subject of exploitation, violence and sex crimes. Fr. Thomas Smolich (Fr. Tom), Director of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) told us a story about a colleague name Sr. Regina who worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where violence has displaced 2.6 million people. There, Sr. Regina worked with the most vulnerable population but by accident she called them (speaking French) “vénérable,” instead of “vulnérable”, “an indirect expression of her unshakeable belief in their dignity.” In Pope Francis’ message for the 103th World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2017, he stated “every person is precious; persons are more important than things, and the worth of an institution is measured by the way it treats the life and dignity of human beings, particularly when they are vulnerable, as in the case of child migrants.” When we’re speaking of stats and figures, we must also look for the human beings that are represented by those stats and figures. We must remember on a cellular human level we are all connected. I think children have an unintentional way of reminding us of this. In speaking with Radio Vaticana, Fr. Tom shared a story about a Syrian Chess champion teaching young displaced children how to play chess in Homs. Fr. Toms, remarked how hopeful he was after seeing this because as he put it “one doesn’t teach chess unless you see a long-term future; if it’s only for the short-term, you’re teaching checkers.” In the midst of this crisis, there is hope for the future. However, we should play chess to strategize for a resolution that will ensure bright futures for present and future generations.

Attend the USF for Freedom Conference to learn about ways to get involved and support nonprofits working on solving the problem. Find more information here:

Refugee Is Not A Foreign Term

Source: JRS Int. 
 Refugee Is Not A Foreign Term
By Angeliqa Bridgett, MSOD

Before this academic global immersion (AGI) to Italy, the word “refugee” rarely crossed my lips and thoughts. Knowingly sheltered since a young age from some of the tragedies of the world and our history, I was comforted in thinking that some incidences would not apply to me if I lived a morale and Christ-like life. As I reflect on a time where the term refugee even became relevant to me, I remember when a well-respected comedian and political activist stated “I was watching the news and saw all these Black people wading the water of Hurricane Katrina, and the news kept referring to them as refugees. These weren’t refugees! These are American citizens!” Now, after just one week I see how loosely the misconception of what a refugee really is and where many people create a bubble for themselves. This could happen to me, or you, and any of us; and yes, we could be considered refugees or internally displaced people (IDP) depending on the situation.

On our first day in Italy, we were visited by Father Thomas Smolich with Jesuit Refugee Service. In his presentation he engaged the class by having us guess which countries were the biggest hosts of refugees. Only one person out of fifteen of us accurately knew only one of the biggest host countries. Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, and Ethiopia are doing their part in helping someone who is forced to flee his or her home. I do not think any of us were surprised that America did not make the list. According to the UNHCR 2015 documentation regarding global leaders and statistics on refugees, America is doing well in the new asylum-seekers category. However, with new government representation taking office how long will that even last? The fourth day of our AGI when guest speaker, Christopher Hein, came to talk with us about the geological versus legal and political issues of the refugee crisis is when my aha moment materialized.

Christopher Hein representing the Italian Council for Refugees (CIR) was very informative and knowledgeable about the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. Both Christopher and Father Thomas emphasized the need for letting immigrants work legally and the importance of integration. Their thoughts were confirmed on our last day with UNHCR representatives Andrea De Bonis and her colleagues when they echoed the same sentiment, but delivered it with a more direct messaging in that “we pray that another tragedy doesn’t happen soon because we would not be able to assist. There needs to be more opportunity for immigrants legally so that the resources are able to grow in a time of need.”

So, what can I do? Throughout my work history and experiences with people over the years, I am learning that we all connect on a human and emotional level, everything comes down to dollars and cents, and there will always be politics around decisions. My first step to understanding and helping with our worldwide refugee crisis can be to understand my U.S. government and what we are voting for and who we are electing into offices at the lowest levels. I can sign up to see our government take action with immigrant reform. I can educate myself and pay attention to issues outside of my bubble since we may never know what can make it burst. I will be more aware, spread the word, and not keep quiet.

Help Us, By Helping Them

Source: AP
Help Us, By Helping Them 
By Stephen Bandy, MNA

After the week in Rome I find myself thinking, what now? What does all this mean and where do I fit in? Of course, I can talk to others, share my experience, master my elevator story but that will never be enough. A refugee we spoke with in Rome, that we were put in contact with through Centro Astalli, explained that most refugees “want to go home” and that he “has one foot in Italy and the other in Kenya.” I know that we should do all that we can do to make everyone feel welcome in a country that is foreign to them, but we should also be focusing our efforts on making sure they never had to leave their home in the first place. This can only be done if countries proactively invest in the major countries that the refugees are coming from, and going to first. Rather than reactively investing in increased border protection and country specific social programs.

It might seem that it is too late for this type of investment, the crisis is here, and we can not live in the past, but that approach will only lead to the continual increase in the number of refugees each year. The UNHCR estimates that in 2008 there were 10.5 million refugees but that number has risen to 16.1 million by 2015. This shows that the current structure is not working and continuing down this path should not be an option. The investments should go directly to the countries that are producing the most refugees.

According to Jesuit Refugee Services, 53% of refugees come from Somalia, Afghanistan, and Syria making them the top three countries that investments should be focused. Of course, there are political issues in these three countries that cannot be overlooked, investing is much easier said than done. If no deal to increase infrastructure, education, and job opportunity can be reached in the original countries the investments should then be focused on the countries that are currently hosting the most refugees. These countries include Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, and Ethiopia. Again, political issues in the host countries exist as well, but with the correct emphasis being put on collaboration and relationship building I am sure that a deal can be made.

We live in a society that can be described as “us vs them” that believes the “us” is better off without “them." Unfortunately, I do not think that is mindset is going away any time soon, but to have a real impact on the refugee crisis this idea does not need to be changed, just the solution associated with it. If politicians shifted focus away from internal protection to external investment the increasing number of refugees will slow down and the relationship between the countries will improve. Although I personally believe we should all become more accepting it will be easier to persuade the people to assist others if they see a positive outcome for themselves. This external, proactive investment, will lead to a sustainable future in which all countries will benefit.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Slavery Yesterday and Today

Photo by 
Slavery Yesterday and Today

By Katrielle Vaslenio

The Colosseum, also known as the Coliseum, shown above, is one of the most iconic buildings in Rome. People from all over the world travel to Italy to see its impressive size and beautifully crafted Roman archways. The magnitude of this building is awe-inspiring. The Coliseum was on my own travel bucket list before this AGI-Rome trip.

However, on this AGI trip, I learned that this building has a darker history. Built in 70 AD at the commission of Emperor Vespasian, the Coliseum was a gift to the Roman people. His idea was to build a center place for the common and poor folk to enjoy in an attempt to keep his subjects happy. Styled as an amphitheater, the Coliseum could hold 50,000 seated spectators and 80,000 spectators standing. It is estimated that over 50,000 slaves built the Coliseum. These slaves came from areas all around the Adriatic Sea that were conquered by the Romans. On this trip, we took a tour of the Coliseum and learned about the slavery that built it. It’s an eerie feeling walking around such a grand structure, imagining the blood, sweat, and forced labor that went into its creation. As I walked with our tour guide, I tried to find a balance between my own wonder of the structure and my unsettledness of its history. To learn more about slavery during the Roman times, visit this website or – if you’re planning a visit to Rome – I highly suggest taking a walking tour of the Coliseum.

Although it’s been centuries since the Coliseum was built, the slavery still exists. Through this program, I learned how slavery intersects with our world’s current refugee crisis. Forced migration and the mass movement of peoples has resulted in human trafficking – essentially a form of modern-day slavery. As migrants move into and through Italy, the country has seen an increase in human trafficking. In the 2016, the U.S. Department of State released a report (found here) briefing the human trafficking in Italy. When we met with the Director of the UNHRC and his colleagues, (thank you, Stefan, Fabianna, and Mikal!), I learned that in 2015, they saw an 80% increase of human trafficking of Nigerian women. They shared that there is a huge difficulty in getting women to report human trafficking and it’s hard to prosecute without proof or reporting. According to the International Labour Organization estimates that about 2.5 million people have been trafficked at any one time and are subject to sexual or labor exploitation. Currently, Italy has taken several measures to help victims of trafficking, an important task as hundreds of thousands of immigrants cross into their borders, many with the opportunity to escape their situations and claiming asylum.

The world has changed drastically since Ancient Rome but slavery – in the form of human trafficking and forced labor – still exists. Human trafficking isn’t absent in the United States either. When I arrived back in the States, I saw the poster below, strategically placed when exiting the customs line at San Francisco International Airport.

If you are interested in learning more or getting involved in eradicating modern slavery, check out Polaris, an organization in the U.S. that is working to restore freedom and prevent more victims.

While work is being tirelessly being done around the globe to end human trafficking, we are nowhere near the end and our current refugee crisis has placed the issue at the front door of many host countries. The policies and actions we take next determine the future of these exploited peoples. Although our world has a deep history of slavery, our future doesn't have to.

Photo by Katrielle Veslenio 

Media and Refugees

Photo Credit: Daily Mail
The Power of Words and Images: The Role of Media in the Refugee Crisis

By Julie Brown

People around the world rely heavily on news from various sources, ranging from television to newspapers, Facebook to Twitter, to receive information about current events. How these various media outlets report on a topic can set the tone for the public’s response to it; bringing awareness and support to the topic or discrediting it, all in a matter of moments. The media’s approach to the refugee crisis in Europe clearly illustrates how words and images can influence public opinion.

During my first day of the AGI-Rome experience, I was quickly confronted with this reality. Despite my thoughts that I was an “informed person” about the crisis, I soon realized that the information I had consumed yielded few facts about the real issues at hand and were based on the sensationalism or “if it bleeds it leads” approach to journalism. I was yet another countless victim to how the media was reporting on the crisis and I didn’t even realize it. As I explored how the media was reporting on the crisis, I quickly learned that I wasn’t alone. Others were also looking at how the media’s reporting of the crisis was being handled. The Huffington Post called into question the media’s reporting of the crisis back in October 2015 in its article “How the Media Are Reporting on Europe’s Refugee Crisis” and how journalists are called to be objective and to provide context for their readers. As The Huffington Post article identified, some were doing well while others not so well. The goal for all journalists is to remind the public that the problem still isn’t solved, but not sensationalize it.

Exploring this topic further, I quickly found a stark example of the power of words and images in the headlines of the Daily Mail, a newspaper in the United Kingdom’s (U.K.). On Friday, August 28, 2015, the Daily Mail’s headline read, in all capital letters, "As numbers break all records… Migrants: How Many More Can We Take?" This article focused on the staggering statistics of migrants flooding into Europe and the U.K. and the stress they were placing on the various systems. A few days later, the Daily Mail’s tone drastically shifted. On Thursday, September 3, 2015, the Daily Mail’s front page read, “The victim of a human catastrophe” and was accompanied by a full-page photograph of a Turkish policeman carrying the lifeless body of a child. These two vastly different titles and images not only illustrated the power the media has to evoke emotions, but also highlighted the complexity of the refugee crisis and how the media attempts to keep it relevant without fatiguing the public. 

Headlines and images are just one way to evoke emotion. Another is the words and terminology used to describe the crisis and those affected by it. During the AGI-Rome experience, each organization that I visited was clear in explaining how they serviced people based on their classification status of refugee or migrant. Throughout my reading of the news, the distinction between refugees and migrants isn’t clear and the terms are often used interchangeably or incorrectly. These two terms are vastly different according to a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) article published in July 2016 (, July 2016). According to the article, the UNHCR defines refugees as people fleeing conflict or persecution and are protected by international law; therefore they may not be expelled or forced to return to their homeland if their life and freedom is at risk. In contrast, a migrant chooses to move to improve their lives by finding work, pursuing education or uniting with other family members. Also, a migrant is able to choose to return home and is protected by their government. These two terms are vastly different. By using these different terms, correctly or incorrectly, the media plays a significant role in determining whether or not the public or government officials are willing to provide support or financial aid (, 2015).

Finally, after meeting with the various organizations throughout the AGI experience, I realized that hearing the personal stories of refugees shifted how I viewed the crisis. I looked into various news articles and realized that many of the articles did not focus on individual stories or bring a human perspective to the crisis and the plight of the refugee; rather the stories focused on the economic impact to a country. Articles trying to dispel the theory that refugees were making a negative impact on the economies, fell into this trap too of using numbers rather then personal stories. In January 2016, The Economist attempted to dispel the notion that the refugees were hurting the European economies in its article, “The Economic Impact of Refugees: For Good or Ill.” Unfortunately, people often get overwhelmed with large numbers and can’t truly understand millions; however, they can understand smaller numbers such as a family unit of five. If The Economist had utilized the example of a family, not only would it have put the expenses associated with the family in perspective, it would have made it more relatable to the average person. By making the refugees relatable, it’s an attempt at minimizing the fears often associated with the refugees.

With refugees continuing to head to Europe and other countries with no foreseeable end in sight or solution to the crisis, the media will continue to play a critical role in how the people and the governments perceive and respond to the crisis. Being in the United States doesn’t make us immune to these media issues either. The aforementioned examples are extreme illustrations about how the media is able to use words and images to evoke specific emotions and responses from the public and governments. The point of this blog post is not to say that the news should be sugar coated; rather that the news should be cautious about how they cover the entire story, how they refer to the various people involved, etc. It also serves as a reminder to myself and others that it’s extremely important to research issues on my own, drawing from multiple sources to get a better understanding of the entire issue and to help put the issue into context. It also is a reminder to make sure when discussing an issue to be mindful and careful about using correct and appropriate terminology and language, not just catchy terms or sensationalism.

A Personal Refugee Journey

Yesterday's Refugee Epidemic, Today's Humanitarian Crisis Pandemic 

By Meno Crompton

I had to make a decision: to study humanitarian crises management in Rome or business analytics in Dubai?  I chose Rome for my visceral connection to the subject matter. The image that sparked my internal call to action was the 2015 image of 3-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, who drowned off the coast of Turkey. According to the UNHCR, fleeing war and corruption in their homeland, over 3,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016. This resonance connected to my own family’s journey when we fled war-torn Vietnam in 1981. To this day, I marvel at the rare stroke of luck my family was afforded. The UNHCR estimated that between 200,000 and 400,000 boat people died at sea. Other estimates compiled are that 10% to 70% of the one to two million Vietnamese boat people died in transit.

My mother was barely 26-years-old when she and my father, who was 31-years-old, fled communist Vietnam, with four children in tow. Their first escape attempt resulted in the Vietnam coast guard stopping them and confiscating the boat my father built. Typical of war-torn countries in desperation, the guards absconded with the money my father and his many desperate friends worked hard for and gathered over the years. Finally, by the second attempt, in 1981, we managed to barely escape off the coast of roiling South China Sea. Over the course of the next two years, we transferred through the sponsorship program to various refugee camps in Malaysia and the Philippines.

Growing up, I never really appreciated just how much my parents sacrificed in order to provide a better life for me and my siblings. Typical of a young child.  But now, as an adult with children of my own, that perspective has changed.  In many ways, one major inflection point was the week-long intensive course in Humanitarian Emergency Management in Rome.  It provided a lens that mirrored what it must have been like for my family and the millions who continue to struggle in similar circumstances of being forced to flee and to leave behind everything they know and have worked hard for. Much like my own parents, many of modern day migrants and refugees are young, smart, and would have preferred to remain rooted in their homeland.

What was intended at the outset for me to be a global discovery of refugeeism and how various organizations in Rome manage the recent refugee pandemic, in actuality burgeoned into an unexpected, self-reflective journey of my own family.  What the migrants and refugees today are faced with are prolonged, precarious circumstances for a dubious path to better opportunities in foreign countries. Much like the firsthand migration stories that I heard during the Rome AGI, my family, too, struggled to provide the bare necessities during our formative days in the U.S.  Naturally, I often catch myself trying to live through the eyes of my father and mother: what they saw, heard, the fear of danger and uncertainty that must have rocked them to their core, and the brave facade they needed to uphold for their young children. 

The most poignant moment during the entire week was a moment I shared with the Italian Refugee for Council director Christopher Hein. In my family’s photo album at home are a series of what looked to be old identification cards. I never thought much of them as a child. Never before had I paid attention to the “UNHCR” labeled at the top of my parent’s photos.

Having just studied more indepthly through the program the history and role of the UNHCR, it dawned on me that these are the very cards that gave my parents their identity when bouncing from one refugee camp to the next. Somehow, this relic of my personal story connected me more than ever to modern day refugees and the necessary process for migrants. Mr. Hein was a former UNHCR director who has dedicated his life to humanitarian efforts, so sharing these artifacts with him was special moment beyond comprehension.

Furthermore, director Stefan of the UNHCR in Italy stated that the refugee problem (over 1.2 million) in Europe pale in comparison to other South American countries like Colombia who’s struggling to manage their three million displaced persons. This sobering fact frames the reality that we are dealing with a global pandemic. What I did not appreciate before and now do is that the displaced persons and forced migrants problem is no longer a local problem. This is happening across the globe in nearly every continent.

Before embarking on the Rome AGI, I often felt paralyzed by the seeming inability to make a difference. What I now realize is that making a difference does not require some grandiose feat. Sometimes the most impactful action can be to share our stories and raise awareness, just as Anthony from Centro Astalli is doing. (Anthony arrived in Rome three years ago, after he, his mother, and sister fled persecution in Kenya.)
While we may not see the immediate impact of our conversations, we will never know where those connections will spark inspiration that will lead to further action. The planting of the seed began with me as a refugee in my early childhood. That seed since sprouted to a greater understanding and growing compassion toward the modern day refugee pandemic.  When I return back to the U.S. I will continue to nurture my burgeoning inspiration and to share the stories and the wealth of information I have acquired during my life-changing week at the Rome AGI.

Professor Tavanti provided a rare opportunity for me and my classmates to understand the global, humanitarian issue through the eyes of various NGOs in Italy. I am so grateful that I was given an opportunity to walk through that door.  I have no doubt that the Rome AGI is just the beginning to creating more impactful change.  Lastly, I find myself vacillating between frustration and hopefulness with the magnitude of the global humanitarian crises.  And I am not sure that I will see much improvement during my lifetime.  Because of my own life as a refugee-immigrant, as well as what I witnessed during the Rome AGI, I am more certain than ever that the power of the human spirit is unrivaled by anything less than faith.  

Have Mercy

Source: EPA
Have Mercy

by Jane Tobin

On November 16, 2016, Pope Francis celebrated mass at St Peter’s Square closing the door on the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. To be honest, I had to dig around a bit to understand the context and significance of this event and this picture. First, Jubilee- what is its meaning of this event to the Catholic Church? According to the Vatican website, a Jubilee is quite simply, a Holy Year. Officially, it’s:
“a year of forgiveness of sins and also the punishment due to sin, it is a year of reconciliation between adversaries, of conversion and receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and consequently of solidarity, hope, justice, commitment to serving God with joy and in peace with our brothers and sisters.”
But what was it about this Jubilee that made it extraordinary? Jubilees are usually proclaimed every 25 years. Pope Francis declared it on March 16, 2015, out of sequence, with a global appeal so that “the Church can draw attention to its mission as a witness of Mercy.” That’s a bold move and a telling example of Pope Francis’ leadership style. Through this Jubilee event, we observe what Chris Lowney outlined in Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads. Lowney argues Pope Francis leads according to his values. It is not an act. It is his life, his way of living. Love and heroic ambitions are the underlying motivators of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Certainly, 2015 was extraordinary. Italy along with Greece was overwhelmed with incoming migrants, forcing Europe to respond with policy and services to meet the demand. According to UNHCR 2015 statistics, there are 65.3 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, 21.3 million refugees, and 10 million stateless people. One only needs to glance at the 2015 illustration from International Organization for Migrants (IOM) to understand the magnitude of the crisis.

Source: IOM

2016, IOM report states Greece and Italy alone account for 92.9% of the 366,350 arrivals in 2016 (as of 16 November 2016). With these statistics, it’s no surprise Pope Francis turned the spotlight on the crisis challenging the world to respond responsibly with love, compassion, and mercy.

Over the course of our week as part of the AGI-Rome Program, we met many of these responding organizations that demonstrate mercy in all their work including identifying, educating, advocating and serving those whose lives and fundamental human rights are at risk. It’s easy to lose sight of hope these days. Daily news headlines seem utterly devoid of it. Merciful work never makes the front page, though it should. Through the AGI-Rome Program, we met some of the key players instrumental in responding and managing this humanitarian crisis. The heroic ambitions of the UNHCR and NGO’s such as Jesuit Refugee Service, Caritas, Centro Astilla and Programma Integra restore hope. Their doors are open; supporting, protecting and welcoming migrants with food, housing, language training and community. These organizations exemplify hospitality as they work to ensure each is known as a person deserving of respect and dignity. At the Celebration of Migrant Day, hosted by Centro Astilla and led by Father Arturo Sosa, SJ, we heard the stories of four refugees forced to flee their countries as young children. Mirvat, a refugee from Syria, is studying language and literature at a university in Rome. She like, many others is finding motivation to “make friends, and create a sense of family and home, noting that every refugee is building what was lost and broken.

Who are we to not see that but for a twist of fortune, this is not our story? Let’s let these stories lead and keep the door open to mercy.

Refugee as Identity Crisis

A young Syrian refugee giving testimony for World Day of Migrants and Refugees, January 13, 2017
A Crisis of Identity: On Politics and Perception

By Shakti Flesher

Having spent the last week in Rome immersed in the local, national, and European context of forced migration and refugee reception has given me a much clearer picture of the challenges facing forced migrants and service providers.

One of the key themes that emerged throughout this past week is that the European “refugee crisis” is in fact not a crisis of refugee influx but rather a European crisis of identity and management.

Contrary to what we hear about most often in the news, Europe is not the primary destination of refugees. In fact, 86% of forcibly displaced people are hosted by developing countries. Turkey, Pakistan, and Lebanon are the top 3 host countries for refugees. While the number of people arriving in Europe in 2015 was less than 0.5% of the EU’s entire population, 25% of Jordan’s population is refugees. See this UNHCR report for more information: Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015.

So why is Europe in crisis? The existing systems in place were not adequate to the task of receiving so many refugees, and the infrastructure was strained to the breaking point, resulting in preventable disasters such as the mass drowning in the Mediterranean that drew worldwide attention. See this UNHCR data sheet on Mediterranean sea arrivals. The refugee crisis also became a question of European identity. As one of our expert speakers, Christopher Hein, stated so succinctly: “More or less Europe?” States must decide to act in unity or respond as individual nations. The problem with the latter model is that the issue of forced migration transcends national borders. It also fails to account for the impact of policy decisions at an individual, human level. This Guardian article also points out Europe has its own “long history of almost constant population movement and mixing of cultures” that must be brought out into the open in order to address the current polarizing rhetoric.

For more on policy issues: European Council on Refugees and Exiles

While there are many concrete physical and logistical needs from organizations on the ground, all of the organizations we spoke to discussed the challenge of perception and the value of changing mindsets. To my mind, it all comes down to mutual understanding. A lot of the fear and misperceptions that come with nationalist or isolationist tendencies and anti-migration sentiment could be avoided if people take the time to understand one another. This is also an essential piece of integration. Those who are in a position to hear directly from the refugees about their own lived experience seem to develop programs that are much better positioned to meet the refugees’ needs. For example, I was impressed by the way in which local associations in Rome have developed programs that integrate community building and social needs along with essentials. For example, Centro Astalli has actively sought to build a “community of hospitality” by collaborating with local congregations to house refugees and provide additional support during the integration process. This program acknowledges that integration is not a process that ends with getting a piece of paper with legal status. Rather it is a complex process of meeting needs, building social bonds, language and cultural knowledge, and achieving milestones such as employment and independent living and becoming an integral part of society. This program in particular meets the needs of refugees who have completed their time in the Italian reception system but need longer to get on their feet. Since the refugees have a stable place to stay and do not need to pay rent, they can concentrate on more than daily survival. For example, we heard the story of a young woman from Ivory Coast. She was a nurse previously but Italy does not recognize her qualifications. Because she had stable housing and support, as well as determination, she was able to work towards a specialized certification. One year later, she was offered a position in Brussels, which recognizes her qualifications and specialization. She was able to start over and pursue her career due to the support of the community.

One refugee told us, “Everyone has a dream of going home.” Surely this is a part of the human condition that every person can empathize with. For many refugees and asylum seekers, this is not possible. But we can come together in solidarity and offer a way forward.

For further reading, here is a recent McKinsey Report discussing ways in which to improve asylum procedures and integration management.

As mentioned above, I think stories are a critical tool in breaking down barriers and developing mutual understanding. For those who are not in a position to meet refugees directly, here are testimonies from UNHCR.

Monday, January 9, 2017