Conference examines refugee plight

Ryan Murphy

The National Collegiate Refugee Conference, an event geared toward exploring issues in human rights, international law and politics was hosted by the University last weekend.

The conference featured speakers from an array of organizations including the U.S. Committee for Human Rights, Catholic Relief Services, the Liberty Centerfor Survivors of Torture, an international lawyer who works with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the CEO of African Health Concerns Inc.

“The refugee speakers and the professional speakers all did a great job of enlightening all attendees on a large number of issues,” senior Colin Girgenti, a conference committee representative, said.

According to the committee’s website, the major goal of the conference was to offer students and others an academic venue focusing on the political and human conditions of refugees. The conference also sought to facilitate an accurate understanding of the dramatic effects of seeking refuge outside one’s familiar borders.

“We think refugees are an important thing to think about right now, especially given the war in Iraq,” Girgenti said.

“A lot of times when war breaks out, people only think about the immediate casualties, without thinking about the people who lose their homes and livelihoods to war and [who] are forced to live in terrible conditions in refugee camps.”

The keynote speaker, Sima Wali, focused on the various refugee situations in America and advocated the rights of woman refugees.

On Saturday morning the conference featured refugees living in the area who spoke of their own experiences.

The committee made a point to bring out the timeliness of this conference.

“For the United States to live up to its claim of liberating the Iraqi people,” Girgenti said, “our government needs to ensure that any Iraqis who do flee the country as refugees, or who flee to the borders as internally displaced persons are able to return to their normal lives as soon as possible.”

Girgenti said that an internally displaced person is one who attempted to cross an international border but was prevented.  He stressed that they face the same issues as refugees, but have no protection under international law.  

The conference committee was comprised of Girgenti, junior Loraine Blakely, senior Michael Dolan and freshman Christina Dipasquale.

The group is currently searching for a University sponsor so that a yearly refugee conference may be held.

About 160 people attended the weekend conference.