Irene Jiang

Five experts called on the Yale community to take action against today’s international refugee crisis at a panel on Monday.

The panel included former International President of Doctors Without Borders Dr. Unni Karunakara and Director and Senior Adviser at UNICEF Dr. Nicholas Alipui. Discussion focused primarily on the plight of child refugees in the Middle East and North Africa, though the speakers addressed a variety of issues ranging from refugee families in Turkey to the need for the United States to refocus its attention to refugees admitted to the country. The event was hosted by two Yale Child Study Center faculty members in conjunction with the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, Yale’s Global Health Leadership Institute and Yale UNICEF.

“[The United National High Commissioner for Refugees] has released many statistics that are alarming, but one of them that has come out recently is that as of the year 2014, about 59 million people were displaced. Fifty-one percent of those are children,” said Angelica Pongutá YSPH ’09, one of the two YCSC faculty hosts. “We have hope. We believe in our Yale community. We truly believe that by informing ourselves and thinking seriously about action, we will be able, we hope, to make sustained difference.”

Panelists represented organizations ranging from UNICEF to Turkey’s Mother Child Foundation to New Haven’s Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services. Each panelist was asked to describe the actions his or her organization is taking to address the refugee crisis, particularly with respect to young children and families. The panelists also spoke about what Yale could do in the short term to help support and solve the refugee crisis, such as invite commanders of peacekeeping operations to campus to discuss the crisis’ social, environmental and political implications. Karunakara urged Yale to start a campaign urging the United States to ratify the Convention of the Rights of the Child, a United Nations human rights treaty outlining children’s political rights. Since Somalia approved the convention last week, the U.S. is the last remaining nation in the U.N. that has not ratified it, he said.

“This will address not just the problems of refugee children, but also children in the U.S. who are getting shot every day in unsafe environments,” Karunakara said.

In her opening remarks, Ponguta described the talk as a “landmark event” organized in under three weeks. Ponguta said the widespread campus support for the event spoke volumes about the community’s ability to mobilize when action is needed most.

Katie Murphy, early childhood development technical advisor at the International Rescue Committee, called on Yale to use its notable scholars to help transform published research into practical solutions. She advised the Yale community to remember that the world’s refugee crisis is widespread, rather than confined to the Middle East.

Alipui said he was appalled at world leaders’ lack of leadership training.

“Yale has the name recognition, has the clout, to be able to bring about change in leadership training that is directed specifically at leaders that generate conflict,” he said.

Danilo Zak ’18, a member of the Yale Refugee Project, which works directly with IRIS, said he appreciated that the panelists came from such diverse backgrounds.

“We have the knowledge, we just need to use it to incite a protest and organization, and actually get something done,” Zak said.

The talk drew over 50 members from both Yale and the larger New Haven community.