Yale Refugee Program Convenes its First Symposium

Under the theme of “The Next Generation of Humanitarianism and Refugee Studies: Challenges & Opportunities”, the Program on Refugees, Forced Displacement and Humanitarian Responses convened its first Symposium on 13th of April 2017. The symposium was a day-long event, aiming to bring together Yale faculty, scholars and students, with a number of prominent faculty and scholars from other universities, as well as humanitarian workers, local and international NGOs, and representatives of think tanks and policy groups working on refugee issues.

George Joseph, the deputy director of the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale, opened the symposium with introductory remarks about the vision behind the new Refugee program; that was launched earlier this spring at the MacMillan Center. “The goal today is to have the opportunity for individuals from the Yale community, as well as New Haven Connecticut, to come together, meet each other and share their work and experiences”, said Joseph. He added that the aim for this symposium is to grow into a more fulsome event, that provides a platform for academics and practitioners working on refugee and humanitarian issues to convene, present their work and also develop it. Joseph also added that the MacMillan Center is committed to bring intellectual as well as financial resources to the table to support faculty and students working on refugee issues.

Catherine Panter-Brick“How we can strive to be better humanitarians?” was the question Catherine Panter-Brick, Professor of Anthropology, Health, and Global Affairs at Yale, posed as an opening overarching thought for the discussion of the day. “Each of us have something to offer; to research or to practice or to policy. By being present today in this room each of us declared an interest in humanitarian and refugee studies. I would like us to use today as an opportunity to make a difference in our understanding of humanitarian values…We reflect in order to deepen our understanding of challenging situations, and how we may seize an opportunity to develop a more reflective, effective and relevant agenda for doing things to make a substantial difference in the world of today…The ethic of a shared humanity has driven change in the fields of law, health and politics in the past, and I think we are poised today to usher another wave of social, ethical, political, legal health reforms to address a broken refugee system.”

Jodi Nelson

In her Keynote address, Jodi Nelson, Senior Vice President of Policy and Practice, International Rescue Committee, offered a description of what is referred to as “the current refugee and humanitarian crisis”, in reference to the Syrian refugee crisis. “What we see today is not a punctuated crisis, but instead the most recent signal of a system that was not deliberately developed to respond to the scale and scope of needs that we see today in the world”. Nelson illustrated the gap between abstract humanitarian principles and the actual humanitarian system and how the latter has been operating in practice. “The politics of decision making [within the international humanitarian aid system] is more determinant of how resources flow; than actual need. This is instrumental in understanding why the system is not working to meet people’s needs.” 

Throughout the day, the sessions of the symposium posed question on challenges pertaining to legal, health, resettlement and integration questions. The final session was dedicated to presentations by Yale undergraduate students who have been taking part in innovative initiatives to engage in humanitarian responses. Also, poster presentations gathered initiatives that were born at Yale and showcased other new projects from guest participants. Videos for all sessions with speakers bios, as well as a photo gallery can be found  [here].