Yale Refugee Program convenes first annual symposium

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

George Joseph, Deputy Director of the MacMillan Center, opened the symposium with introductory remarks about the vision behind the new Refugee program launched earlier this spring at the MacMillan Center, and stated that “it is committed to bringing resources to the table to support faculty and students working on refugee issues, including intellectual as well as financial resources.” He added that the goal for the symposium is to continue 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.

“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.”

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 how the gap between abstract humanitarian principles, and how the actual humanitarian system 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 questions about 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. Poster presentations featuring initiatives that were founded at Yale, as well as other new projects from guest participants, were showcased at the conclusion of the symposium.

The Program’s 2nd Annual Symposium is planned for April 2018. 


Written by Hanan Elbadawi, Pre-doctoral Fellow and Program Manager.

Thursday, May 4, 2017