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"Millions and Millions of Migrants and Refugees: What Americans Can Do to Help"

On Friday at noon we went to the City Club for a program titled "Millions and Millions of Migrants andRefugees...and What Americans Can Do to Help" featuring Ms. Anne C. Richard who has served as Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration since 2012.IMG_7951Ms. Richard was introduced by Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman who coordinated the workshop on refugees at the Ariel Center last September and was instrumental in getting a resolution passed by the Cleveland City Council welcoming all refugees to Cleveland. He praised Ms. Richard as being an outstanding embodiment of the United States at its best.

As her biography stated, Ms. Richard has also authored several monographs and reports and numerous opinion pieces on topics including: international coordination of foreign assistance; combating terrorism; strategies to make foreign aid more cost-effective; and specific humanitarian crises from Haiti to South Sudan to Afghanistan. Ms. Richard reviewed the striking statistics regarding the magnitude of the current crisis while urging us to keep in mind that these are actual persons who are affected not just a series of numbers.

She told us that at this time in history there are more displaced persons (60 million) than any other time IMG_7950since WWII but only 20 million of these people fit the definition of a refugee which is someone "who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster."

(Along these lines the plight of children/young people who are fleeing Central America to come to the United States is a gray area because it is questionable about whether they could be regarded as refugees because they are fleeing the criminality in their countries instead of their governments.)

Actually there more internally displaced people (IDP's) who are forced to flee his or her home but who remains within his or her country's borders. These total approximately 40 million and they include people who have fled their homes in Iraq to move to another part of the country. And then there are hundreds of thousands of  migrants who move wherever they can to find work (documented or not) and are frequently just vulnerable as refugees and IDP's.

Regarding the refugees from Syria and the political controversy surrounding them,  Ms. Richard reassuringly explained the extensive screening process that they must undergo in order to be allowed into the United States. She said that one of the big obstacles before us now is the need for more funds to address these problems and the need to coordinate it properly to the areas where it will be the most useful. Along these lines she upheld the work of the "No Lost Generation Initiative" that was created in 2013 to address the plight of children affected by the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

As far a refugee resettlement in Cleveland, we know that since 2010 3,500 refugees have settled in Cleveland mainly from Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Burma, Bhutan, Ukraine, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Iraq but we were happy when Ms. Richard cited a study by the Cleveland Foundation about what an asset they can ultimately be to our economy. She praised the work of the Refugee Services Collaborative of Greater Cleveland and said that it might prove to be a model for other such efforts.

She concluded her presentation by firmly stating that we must accept the fact that refugees/displaced people are no different from us because, just like we do, they want to work and take charge of their destinies. What's more their spirit and their determination to survive is an outstanding rebuke to those tyrants/dictators who forced them into this position.

IMG_7953Before the program began, we had spoken with Ms. Danielle Drake; Public Affairs Chair of the Collaborative; who told us that there are, at this time, fifteen Syrian refugees living in Cleveland including a family of five and two other families. A few more are expected here in the next couple of months. Toledo has taken in more Syrian refugees than we have and between the two cities they number ninety.

We saw Ms. Richard and Ms. Drake, as well as several other people who were at the City Club, later in the afternoon at an Issue forum put on by CSU's Office of Civic Engagement titled " The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Cleveland's Response" and got to talk to Ms. Richard, herself, for a moment who warned us that we would be hearing her speech again for a second time but this was fine by us because we were now able to absorb it instead of just listening to it.

Before Ms. Richard gave the Keynote, we listened to remarks made by a panel consisting of Ms. Drake; Dr. Abel el-Rahman Tayyara, Associate Professor and Director of IMG_7956Middle Eastern Studies at CSU; Ms. Leen Midani, herself an immigrant from Syria and a student at CSU; and our good friend Ms. Meredith Turner, Director of Immigration Affairs and Diversity Outreach in the Office of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown. Dr. Tayyara reviewed the origins of what created the current situation tracing it back to how France and Britain divided the Middle East and Syria after World War I and the bitter effects of colonization that never dissipated. And, of course, more recently a tenuous situation exploded due to the fallout regarding Arab Spring and the formation of Isis.

IMG_7952Ms. Drake gave an overview of the refugee situation here in Cleveland and talked about the rewards that working with refugees has brought to her personally and the contributions that Cleveland's refugees have given to us all both culturally and economically. One point that she made was that refugees resettled in Cleveland generally find employment within five months which is better than the national average.

Likewise, Ms. Turner talked about what it is like being a case worker trying to assist people by listening to their often wrenching stories and only being able to do so much to help them due to the various channels that she has to work through. "I try to help people navigate through the process," she said. As such, she can ask federal and U.N. agencies for progress reports on a particular case but cannot determine the end result.  Nevertheless, there are success stories and Ms. Turner deeply cherishes them.

IMG_7947Ms. Midani was born and raised in Damascus and came to the United States at age 21 on what she thought would be a forty-five day with her sister but, in the interim, violence erupted in her native land and she was unable to return. Thus, she "lost the life that she built over there." Thankfully, she never had to go to a refugee camp but knows "how hard it is to start from zero." Ms. Midani is now a senior in CSU's Monte Ahuja College of Business majoring in Business Administration and is, at this time, an intern in the Office of Councilman Joe Cimperman who, as we know, is an impassioned advocate for refugees and immigrants.  She went on to say that it is hard to describe how she feels when she receives news about the violence and the starvation that is taking place in Syria. She believes that no human being should have to go through this and sees it as her role to attempt to change people's often negative perspectives on Syrians and to encourage people to pay attention to what is going on there so that all can be done to change the situation


Written by:

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC.

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