Forum highlights Iraq refugee crisis solutions

Jessica May

Villanova hosted to a forum titled “The Iraqi Refugee Crisis: Reports and Responses from the Field” on Tuesday. Addressing the displacement of over two million Iraqi refugees internally and throughout the Middle East, the series of four lectures was designed to highlight the crisis in hand and the action that needs to be taken.

Speakers for the event included Najla Chadha, director of the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center; Chawla Elia, general secretary of Caritas Iraq; Michele Pistone, director of the Clinical Program and Clinic for Asylum and Refugee and Emigrant Services for Villanova’s Law School; and Dina Habiib, a Villanova student from Lebanon.

Chadha began her discussion of the refugee crisis by providing a history of the Iraqi refugee crisis.

Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon, has become home to an estimated 65,000 Iraqis fleeing the war and political unrest in their own country. Since Lebanon is one of the smallest countries in the Middle East, the immigration statistics have greatly affected the population level.

Illegal immigration through the Syrian border via smugglers and traffickers has left normally middle-class families at a level near that of poverty. Their illegal status also leaves them without work and living a life of fear of deportation.

According to Chadha, one of the biggest problems that Lebanon is facing is the illegal status of its immigrants.

“This is a serious issue for them,” Chadha said. “They are illegal, they cannot work and they have medical problems.”

This is where Catholic Relief Services comes in.

The Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center is the Lebanese partner of Catholic Relief Services, according to a Villanova press release. The organization provides food, medical care and other vital services to over 1,400 families in Lebanon.

Chadha is responsible for negotiating the release of 13 Iraqi refugees detained in Lebanon for illegal immigration.

“We are using social work methodology in which we are approaching every family that has approached Caritas,” Chadha said. “We are approaching the community and visiting them in order to assess their needs.”

This hands-on approach has been designed to alleviate discrimination and help those refugees who are experiencing the worst conditions.

“There is basic criteria that is listed in order to assist a family,” Chadha said.

Among the list are health care, needs-based consultation, medicine, lab exams, radiology and collaboration with the public hospital.

According to Chadha, cancer and asthma are prominent diseases among the refugees.

“There is especially a lot of cancer seen among the refugees,” said Chadha. “They cannot afford health care in Lebanon. The health care is high priced in Lebanon, so how can we expect the refugees to support it?”

The education crisis is also being addressed among the children who have entered the country as refugees.

Because the levels of education are different in Iraq and Lebanon, Chadha helps organize weekend sessions with the children in order to help them maintain a similar schedule to Lebanese children.

While Lebanon does play host to a large amount of Iraqi refugees, most do not plan to stay in Lebanon. Instead, larger and more powerful countries such as Australia and the United States act as destination goals.

Chadha proposed a variety of solutions.

“We want pressure on the Lebanese government by the United States government,” Chadha said. “We want to legalize refugees in Lebanon and intrigue an awareness about their rights and how to avoid smugglers and traffickers.”

Other speakers during the forum echoed Chadha’s call for action in this situation. This forum followed a Public Policy forum on April 4 at the Villanova School of Law titled “Forum on the Iraqi Refugee Crisis: Law, Policy and Practice at the National Press Club.”