Academic Webinar: Refugees and Global Migration
Anne C. Richard, distinguished fellow and Afghanistan coordination lead at Freedom House, will lead a conversation on refugees and global migration.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Welcome to the final session of the Winter/Spring 2022 CFR Academic Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR.
Today’s discussion is on the record, and the video and transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org/academic. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
We are delighted to have Anne Richard with us today to talk about refugees and global migration. Ms. Richard is a distinguished fellow and Afghanistan coordination lead at Freedom House. She has taught at several universities including Georgetown, University of Virginia, Hamilton College, and the University of Pennsylvania.
From 2012 to 2017, Ms. Richard served as an assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration, and before joining the Obama administration she served as vice president of government relations and advocacy for the International Rescue Committee. She has also worked at the Peace Corps headquarters and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, and is a member of CFR.
So, Anne, thank you very much for being with us today. With your background and experience, it would be great if you could talk from your vantage point—give us an overview of the current refugee trends you are—we are seeing around the world, especially vis-à-vis the war in Ukraine, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, et cetera.
RICHARD: Thank you so much, Irina, for inviting me today and for always welcoming me back to the Council. And thank you to your team for putting this together.
I’m very happy to speak about the global refugee situation, which, unfortunately, has, once again, grown yet larger in a way that is sort of stumping the international community in terms of what can well-meaning governments do, what can foundations and charitable efforts and the United Nations (UN) do to help displaced people.
I thought we could start off talking a little bit about definitions and data, and the idea is that I only speak about ten minutes at this beginning part so that we can get to your questions all the more quickly.
But for all of us to be on the same wavelength, let’s recall that refugees, as a group, have an organization that is supposed to look out for them. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is the title of the number-one person in the organization, but the entire organization is known by that name, UNHCR, or the UN Refugee Agency.
It also has a convention—the 1951 Refugee Convention—that came about after World War II and was very focused on not allowing to happen again what had happened during World War II where victims of the Nazis and, as time went on, people fleeing fascism, people fleeing communism, couldn’t get out of their countries and were persecuted because of this.
And there’s a legal definition that comes out of the convention that different countries have, and the U.S. legal definition matches very much the convention’s, which is that refugees have crossed an international border—they’re not in their home country anymore—and once they’ve crossed an international border the sense is that they are depending on the international community to help them and that they’re fleeing for specific purposes—their race, their religion, their ethnicity, their membership in a particular social group such as being LGBTQ, or political thought.
And if you think back to the Cold War, these were some of the refugees coming out of the former Soviet Union, coming out of Eastern Europe, were people who had spoken out and were in trouble and so had to flee their home countries.
So what are the numbers then? And I’m going to refer you to a very useful page on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees website, which is their “Figures at a Glance” presentation, and we’re going to reference some of the numbers that are up there now.
But those numbers change every year. They change on June 20, which is World Refugee Day. And so every year it hits the headlines that the numbers have gone up, unfortunately, and you can anticipate this if you think in terms of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. It’s usually June 20, 21, 22. So June 20, that first possible day, is every year World Refugee Day.
So if you’re working on behalf of refugees it’s good sometimes to schedule events or anticipate newspaper articles and conversations about refugees ticking up in—at the end of June.
So if you were paying attention last June for World Refugee Day, UNHCR would have unveiled a number of 82.4 million refugees around the world, and so this upcoming June what do we anticipate? Well, we anticipate the numbers will go up again and, in fact, yesterday the high commissioner was in Washington, met with Secretary of State Tony Blinken, and they met the press and Filippo Grandi, the current high commissioner, said that he thinks the number is closer to ninety-five to ninety-six million refugees.
So, clearly, a couple things have happened since last June. One is that so many people are trying to flee Afghanistan and another is so many people have fled Ukraine.
So if we went back to that $82.4 million figure that we know we have details on, we would find that this is the figure of people who are displaced because of conflict or persecution around the world. The ones that count as refugees who have actually crossed an international border is a smaller number. It’s 20.7 million people that UNHCR is concerned about and then another close to six million people who are Palestinians in the Middle East whose displacement goes back to 1948, the creation of the statehood of Israel, and upheaval in the Middle East region as Palestinians were shifted to live elsewhere.
And so—and they are provided assistance by a different UN agency, UNRWA—UN Relief Works Administration in the Near East—and so if you see a number or you see two sets of numbers for refugees and they’re off by about five or six million people, the difference is the Palestinian, that number—whether it’s being counted in, which is for worldwide numbers, or out because UNHCR cares for most refugees on Earth but did not have the responsibility for the Palestinians since UNRWA was set up with that specific responsibility.
So what’s the big difference then between the eighty-two million, now growing to ninety-five million, and this smaller number of refugees? It’s internally displaced persons (IDPs). These are people who are displaced by conflict or are displaced by persecution, are running for their lives, but they haven’t left their own countries yet.
So think of Syrians who, perhaps, are displaced by war and they have crossed their own countries and gone to a safer place within their own country but they haven’t crossed that border yet. Others who have crossed into Lebanon or Turkey or Jordan or Iraq or have gone further afield to Egypt, those would be considered refugees.
Who’s responsible for the IDPs then? Well, legally, their own countries are supposed to take care of them. But in my Syria example, the problem is Syria was bombing its own people in certain areas of the country, and so they were not protecting their own people as they should be.
People can be displaced by things other than war and conflict and persecution, of course. More and more we talk about climate displacement, and this is a hot issue that we can talk about later. But who’s responsible then when people are displaced by changing climactic conditions and it’s their own governments who are supposed to help them?
But more and more questions have been raised about, well, should the international community come together and do more for this group of people—for internally displaced persons—especially when their own governments are unwilling or unable to do so?
What about migrants? Who are the migrants? Migrants is a much broader term. Everyone I’ve talked about so far who’s crossed a border counts as a migrant. Migrants are just people on the go, and the International Organization for Migration estimates there’s about 281 million migrants on Earth today—about 3.6 percent of the world population—and one of the big issues I’ve pushed is to not see migrants as a dirty word.
Unfortunately, it often is described that way—that migratory flows are bad, when, in fact, lots of people are migrants. Students who travel to the U.S. to take classes are migrants to our country. The secretary general of the United Nations, António Guterres, who was himself for eleven years the high commissioner for refugees, he says, I am a migrant, because he’s a Portuguese person working in New York City. People hired by Silicon Valley from around the world to work in high-paid jobs, legally in the United States, they are migrants.
More concerning are vulnerable migrants, people who are displaced and don’t have the wherewithal to, necessarily, protect themselves, take care of themselves, on the march or where they end up, or also if they’re seen as traveling without papers, not welcome in the places where they’re going, that can be a very, very dangerous situation for them.
So be aware that migrants is a really broad all-encompassing term that can include travelers, businesspeople, as well as vulnerable and very poor people who are economic migrants.
Finally, immigrants are people who set out and migrate because they intend to live somewhere else, and when we were talking about the Trump administration’s policies to reduce the number of refugees coming to the U.S. we also see that immigration to the U.S. also was decreased during that administration as well.
So both the refugee program and a lot of the immigration pathways to the U.S. are now being examined and trying to be not just fixed, because a lot of them have needed care for quite some time, but also put back on a growth trajectory.
And then asylum seekers are people who get to a country on their own, either they have traveled to a border or they pop up inside a country because they have gotten in legally through some other means such as a visitor visa or business visa, and then they say, I can’t go home again. It’s too dangerous for me to go home again. Please, may I have asylum? May I be allowed to stay here and be protected in your country?
So that’s a lot of different terminology. But the more you work on it, the more these terms—you get more familiar using them and understand the differences between them that experts or legal experts use.
So ninety-five to ninety-six million people, as we see another eleven million people fleeing Ukraine and of that four million, at least, have crossed the borders into neighboring countries and another seven million are internally displaced, still inside Ukraine but they’ve gone someplace that they feel is safer than where they were before.
When we looked at the eighty million refugees and displaced people, we knew that two-thirds of that number came from just five countries, and one of the important points about that is it shows you what could happen, the good that could be done, if we were able to push through peace negotiations or resolutions of conflict and persecution, if we could just convince good governance and protection of people—minorities, people with different political thought, different religious backgrounds—inside countries.
So the number-one country still remains Syria that has lost 6.7 million people to neighboring countries, primarily. Secondly was Venezuela, four million. Third was Afghanistan. The old number from before last August was 2.6 million and some hundreds of thousands have fled since. And the only reason there aren’t more fleeing is that they have a really hard time getting out of their country, and we can talk more about that in a moment.
The fourth are Rohingya refugees fleeing from Burma, or Myanmar. That’s 1.1 million, and the fifth was Southern Sudanese, 2.2 million, who have fled unrest and violence in that country. So we know that we have not enough peace, not enough solutions, and we have too much poverty, too, and dangers.
In addition to the Venezuelans, another group that has approached the U.S. from the southern border that were in the paper, especially around election times, is from the Northern Triangle of Central America, so El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
These are people who could be fleeing because of economic situations and could also be fleeing from criminal violence, gangs, warfare, narcotraffickers. And so if they are fleeing for their lives and approaching our southern border, we are supposed to give them a hearing and consider whether they have a case for asylum, and the—unfortunately, that is not well understood, especially not by folks working at our borders.
The Customs and Border Protection folks are more and more focused on, since 9/11, ensuring that bad guys don’t come across, that terrorists don’t come across, that criminals don’t come across. And we heard in the Trump administration conversations about Mexicans as rapists, gang warfare being imported into the U.S. from Central America when, in fact, some of it had been originally exported, and this sense that people from the Middle East were terrorists.
And so really harsh language about the types of people who were trying to make it to the U.S. and to get in.
Some final thoughts so that we can get to the question and answer. The U.S. government has traditionally been the top donor to refugee and humanitarian efforts around the world. The bureau at the State Department I used to run, the Population, Refugees, and Migration Bureau, was a major donor to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees—UNRWA—the International Committee of the Red Cross, and also the International Organization for Migration, which used to be an independent organization and is now part of the UN since 2016.
We were also the number-one resettlement location, the formal program for bringing refugees to the United States, and when I was assistant secretary we brought seventy thousand refugees per year to the United States, invited them to come through a program that took eighteen months to twenty-four months, on average, to get them in because they had to be vetted for security reasons. They had to pass medical tests. Their backgrounds had to be investigated to see that they were who they said they were.
And that number went higher in the last year of the Obama administration to eighty-five thousand refugees and, in fact, the Obama administration proposed some very strong additional measures to help refugees. But the Trump administration threw that all into reverse with a completely different set of policies.
So the numbers then became reduced every year—fifty-three thousand in the first year of the Trump administration, 22,500 the next year, thirty thousand in 2019, 11,814 in 2020, a similar number in 2021, and slow numbers coming today, this despite bringing so many Afghans through an evacuation exercise last summer.
Many of the people who were evacuated were American citizens or green card holders. Afghans who had worked for the U.S. but did not have their formal paperwork yet were brought in under what’s called humanitarian parole, and the problem with that program is that it’s no guarantee for a longer-term stay in the United States. So there’s a bill in Congress right now to address that.
A lot of the people who worked on that, especially within the U.S. government, are proud that they’ve scrambled and brought so many people so quickly—120,000 people brought from Afghanistan. At the same time, those of us who are advocates for refugees would say too many people were left behind and the evacuation should continue, and that’s a real concern.
In terms of resettlement in the U.S., it’s a program run—public-private partnership—and we’ve never seen so many volunteers and people helping as there are right now, and initiatives to help welcome people to the United States, which is fantastic.
I would say the program should be one of humanity, efficiency, and generosity, and that generosity part has been tough to achieve because the government piece of it is kind of stingy. It’s kind of a tough love welcome to the United States where the refugees are expected to get jobs and the kids to go to school and the families to support themselves.
So let me stop there because I’ve been just talking too long, I know, and take questions.
FASKIANOS: It’s fantastic, and thank you for really clarifying the definitions and the numbers.
Just a quick question. You said the U.S. government is the top donor. What is the percentage of DVP? I mean, it’s pretty—
RICHARD: Tiny. Yeah.
FASKIANOS: —tiny, right? I think there’s this lack of understanding that it may seem like a big number but in our overall budget it’s minuscule. So if you could just give us a—
RICHARD: Yeah. It’s grown in the last few years because of all these crises around the world to ten to twelve million—I mean, ten billion dollars to twelve billion (dollars) between the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department, which was bigger. It was around seven or eight billion (dollars) when I was the assistant secretary five, six years ago.
But the important part of it was it provided the whole backbone to the international humanitarian system. Governments, some of them, saw Americans sometimes as headaches in terms of we, Americans, telling them what to do or we, Americans, having our own ideas of how to do things or we, Americans, demanding always budget cuts and efficiencies.
But the fact is the whole humanitarian enterprise around the world is based on American generosity, especially the big operating agencies like World Food Programme, UNHCR, UNICEF, UN Development Program.
FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you.
So now we’re going to go to all you for your questions. Hands are already up and Q&A written questions. So I’ll try to get to everybody as much as I can.
I’m going to go—the first question from Rey Koslowski, and if you can unmute yourself and give us your institution that would be fantastic.
RICHARD: Hi, Rey.
Q: All right. Rey Koslowski, University at Albany. Hi, Anne. Good to see you.
I’d like to pick up on the use of humanitarian parole. So, as I understand it, it’s being utilized for Afghan evacuees, Afghans, who you mentioned, who didn’t—weren’t able to get on the flights and were left behind, but also for Ukrainians. You know, President Biden announced a hundred thousand Ukrainians. I mean, a very—we’re using other channels but we’ve had, I believe, three thousand at the U.S.-Mexican border and, I believe, they’re being paroled for the most part, right.
As I understand it, we’re—one DHS letter that I saw said that there were forty-one thousand requests for humanitarian parole for Afghan nationals. But I’m wondering about capacity of the USCIS to handle this, to process this, because, you know, normally, I think, maybe two thousand or so, a couple thousand, are processed, maybe a couple of people who do this, and also in conjunction with the challenges for processing all of the asylum applications.
So, as I understand it, back in the fall there was some discussion of hiring a thousand asylum officers—additional asylum officers. I was wondering, what are your thoughts about our capacity to process all of the—the U.S. government’s capacity to process the humanitarian parole applications and the asylum applications, and if you have any insights on new hires and how many—
RICHARD: Well, you know, Rey, at Freedom House now I’m working on a project to help Afghan human rights defenders and—
RICHARD: —the idea is that they can restart their work if we can find a way for them to be safe inside Afghanistan, which is very hard with the Taliban in charge right now, or if in exile they can restart their work. And so we’re watching to see where Afghans are allowed to go in the world as they seek sanctuary and the answer is they don’t get very far. It’s very hard to get out of the country. If they get to Pakistan or Iran, they don’t feel safe.
They have short-term visas to stay there, and the programs that might bring them further along like resettlement of refugees are—take a much longer time to qualify for and then to spring into action, and so they’re stuck. You know, they’re afraid of being pushed back into Afghanistan. They’re afraid of becoming undocumented and running out of money wherever they are, and so they’re in great need of help.
The humanitarian parole program sort of—for bringing Afghans into the U.S. sort of understood that our eighteen- to twenty-four-month refugee resettlement program was a life-saving program but it wasn’t an emergency program. It didn’t work on an urgent basis. It didn’t scoop people up and move them overnight, and that’s, really, what was called for last August was getting people—large numbers of people—out of harm’s way.
And so when I was assistant secretary, if we knew someone was in imminent danger we might work with another government. I remember that the Scandinavians were seen as people who were more—who were less risk averse and would take people who hadn’t had this vast vetting done but would take small numbers and bring them to safety, whereas the U.S. did things in very large numbers but very slowly.
And so this lack of emergency program has really been what’s held us back in providing the kind of assistance, I think, people were looking for the Afghans. I was surprised we even brought them into the United States. I thought after 9/11 we’d never see that kind of program of bringing people in with so little time spent on checking.
But what they did was they moved up them to the front of the line and checked them very quickly while they were on the move. So it was safe to do but it was unusual, and I think part of that was because the military—the U.S. military—was so supportive of it and U.S. veterans were so supportive of it and we had, for the first time in a while, both the right and the left of the political spectrum supporting this.
So the problem with humanitarian parole is I remember it being used, for example, for Haitians who had been injured in the Haitian earthquake and they needed specialized health care—let’s say, all their bones were crushed in their legs or something. They could be paroled into the U.S., get that health care that they needed, and then sent home again.
So we’ve not used it for large numbers of people coming in at once. So what refugee advocates are seeking right now from Congress is the passage of the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would give people a more permanent legal status. They would be treated as if they were—had come through the refugee resettlement program and they’d get to stay.
So you’re right that the numbers being granted humanitarian parole at one time is just not the normal way of doing things. You’re also right that the—this is a lot of extra work on people who weren’t anticipating it, and more can continue with the hundred thousand Ukrainians who the president has said we will take in.
And so the thing is when we have these kind of challenges in the United States one way to deal with it is to spend more money and do a better job, and that seems to be an option for certain challenges we face but not for all challenges we face. With these more humanitarian things, we tend to have tried to do it on the cheap and to also use the charity and partner with charities and churches more than if this were sort of a more business-oriented program.
So we need all of the above. We need more government funding for the people who are working the borders and are welcoming people in or are reviewing their backgrounds. We need more assistance from the public, from the private sector, from foundations, because the times demand it.
And it’s very interesting to me to see Welcome US created last year with three former U.S. presidents—President Bush, President Clinton, President Obama—speaking up about it, saying, please support this, and people from across the political aisle supporting it. I wish that had existed in 2015 when we were grappling with these issues at the time of candidate Trump.
So the needs are greater. Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean we have to just suffer through and struggle through and have long backups like we do right now. We could be trying to put more resources behind it.
FASKIANOS: I’m going to take the next written question from Haley Manigold, who’s an IR undergrad student at University of North Florida.
We know that the war in Ukraine is going to affect grain and food supplies for the MENA countries. Is there any way you would recommend for Europe and other neighboring regions to manage the refugee flows?
RICHARD: The first part of that was about the food issue but then you said—
FASKIANOS: Correct, and then this is a pivot to manage the refugee flows. So—
RICHARD: Well, the Europeans are treating the Ukrainians unlike any other flow of people that we’ve seen lately. It goes a little bit back and reminiscent to people fleeing the Balkans during the 1990s. But we saw that with a million people in 2015 walking into Europe from Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan—mix of economic migrants and real refugees—that Europe, at first, under Angela Merkel’s leadership were welcoming to these folks showing up, and then there was a backlash and the walls came up on that route from the Balkans to Germany and to Sweden.
And so in the last few years, Europeans have not been seen as champions in allowing—rescuing people who are trying to get to Europe on their own. You know, especially the Mediterranean has been a pretty dismal place where we see Africans from sub-Saharan Africa working their way up to North Africa and trying to get from Libya across the Mediterranean to Europe.
These are mostly economic migrants but not solely economic migrants, and they deserve to have a hearing and, instead, they have been terribly mistreated. They get stopped by the Libyan coast guard, the Europeans push boats back, and they are offloaded back into Libya and they are practically imprisoned and mistreated in North Africa.
So that’s a terribly inhumane way to treat people who are trying to rescue themselves, their families, and find a better life.
And another point to the Europeans has been, couldn’t you use these young people taking initiative trying to have a better life and work hard and get on with their lives, and the answer is yes. Europe has this sort of aging demographic and could definitely use an infusion of younger workers and talented people coming in. But, instead, they have really pushed to keep people out.
So what’s happened with Ukrainians? They’re seen as a different category. They’re seen as neighbors. There’s a part of it that is positive, which is a sense that the countries right next door have to help them. Poland, Moldova, other countries, are taking in the Ukrainians. The borders are open. If they get to Poland they can get free train fare to Germany. Germany will take them in, and that’s a beautiful thing. And the upsetting thing is the sense that there is undertones of racism, also anti-Islam, where darker-skinned people were not at all welcome and people who are not Christian were not welcome. And so it’s probably a mix of all the above, the good and the bad, and it’s potentially an opportunity to teach more people about “refugeehood” and why we care and why it affects all of us and what we should do about it and that we should do more.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. All right, I’m going to take the next question from Kazi Sazid, who has also raised their hand, so if you could just ask your question yourself and identify yourself.
Q: Hello. So I’m Kazi. I’m a student at CUNY Hunter College and I happen to be writing a research paper on Central American and Iraq war refugee crises and how international law hasn’t changed the behavior of a state helping them.
So my question is, how does confusion and ignorance of migration and refugee terminology by state leaders and the general populace impact the legally ordained rights of refugees such as having identity documents, having the right to education, refoulement, which is not being sent back to a country where they are danger? One example is like Central Americans are termed as illegal immigrants by the right wing but the reality is they are asylum seekers who are worthy of refugee status because gang violence and corruption has destabilized their country and the judicial systems. I think femicide in El Salvador and Honduras is among the highest and—so yeah.
RICHARD: Yeah. Thank you for asking the question, and I have a soft spot in my heart for Hunter College. Only one of my grandparents went to college and it was my mother’s mother who went to Hunter College and graduated in the late 1920s, and as we know, it’s right down the street from the Harold Pratt House, the home of the Council on Foreign Relations.
So I think a lot of what you—I agree with a lot of what you’ve said about—for me it’s describing these people who offer so much potential as threats, just because they are trying to help themselves. And instead of feeling that we should support these folks, there’s a sense of—even if we don’t allow them in our country we could still do things to ease their way and help them find better solutions, but they’re described as these waves of people coming this way, headed this way, scary, scary. And if you follow the debates in the United States, I was very alarmed before and during the Trump administration that journalists did not establish that they had a right to make a claim for asylum at the border. Instead, they talked about it as if it were two political policies duking it out, where some people felt we should take more and some people felt we should take less. Well, the issue that was missed, I felt, in a lot of the coverage of the Southern border was the right to asylum, that they had a right to make a claim, that we had signed onto this as the United States and that there was a very good reason that we had signed onto that and it was to make sure people fleeing for their lives get an opportunity to be saved if they’re innocent people and not criminals, but innocent people who are threatened, that we’d give them a place of safety. So I agree with you that the lack of understanding about these basic principles, agreements, conventions is something that is not well understood by our society, and certainly the society was not being informed of that by a lot of the messengers describing the situation over the past few years.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. So I’m going to take the next question from Lindsey McCormack who is an undergrad at Baruch—oh, sorry, a graduate student at Baruch College. My apologies. Do you see any possibility of the U.S. adopting a protocol for vetting and accepting climate refugees? Have other countries moved in that direction? And maybe you can give us the definition of a climate refugee and what we will in fact be seeing as we see climate change affecting all of us.
RICHARD: I don’t have a lot to say on this, so I hate to disappoint you, but I will say a couple things because, one, I was on a task force at Refugees International, which is a very good NGO that writes about and reports on refugee situations around the world and shines a light on them. I was part of a task force that came out with a report for the Biden administration on the need to do more for climate migrants, and so that report is available at the Refugees International site and it was being submitted to the Biden administration because the Biden administration had put out an executive order on refugees that included a piece that said we want to do a better job, we want to come up with new, fresh ideas on climate migrants. So I don’t know where that stands right now, but I think the other piece of information that I often give out while doing public speaking, especially to students, about this issue is that I feel not enough work has been done on it, and so if a student is very interested in staying in academia and studying deeper into some of these issues, I think climate migration is a field that is ripe for further work. It’s timely, it’s urgent, and it hasn’t been over-covered in the past.
I admire several people, several friends who are working on these issues; one is Professor Beth Ferris at Georgetown University who was, in fact, on the secretary general’s High Level Panel on Internal Displacement and she made sure that some of these climate issues are raised in very high-level meetings. She was also part of this task force from Refugees International. Another smart person working on this is Amali Tower, a former International Rescue Committee colleague who started a group called Climate Refugees and she’s also trying to bring more attention to this; she’s kind of very entrepreneurial in trying to do more on that. Not everybody would agree that the term should be climate refugees since “refugees” has so much legal definitions attached to it and the people displaced by climate don’t have those kind of protections or understandings built around them yet. But I think it’s an area that there definitely needs to be more work done.
So I think the basic question was, did I think something good was going to happen anytime soon related to this, and I can’t tell because these crazy situations around the world, the war in Ukraine and Taliban in charge in Afghanistan—I mean, that just completely derails the types of exercises that the world needs of thinking through very logically good governance, people coming together making decisions, building something constructive instead of reacting to bad things.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from raised hand Ali Tarokh. And unmute your—thank you.
Q: Yes. OK, I am Ali Tarokh from Northeastern University.
I came here in the United States ten years ago as a refugee. And I was in Turkey—I flew Iran to Turkey. I stayed there fourteen, sixteen months. So this is part of—my question is part of my lived experience in Turkey.
So one part is humanitarian services, helping refugees move into the third country, OK? The one issue I—it’s my personal experience is the UNHCR system, there is many corruptions. This corruption makes lines, OK, produce refugees—because some countries such as Iran and Turkey, they are producing refugees and there is no solution for it, or sometimes they use it as—they use refugees as a weapon. They say, OK, if you don’t work with me—Turkey sent a message to EU: If you don’t work with me, I open the borders. I open the borders and send the flow of refugees to EU. Even some—even Iran’s government.
So my question is, how can we in the very base on the ground—the level of the ground—how can we prevent all these corruption or how can we work out with this kind of government, countries that are—I named them the refugee producers. And by the time there is two sides of the refugees—one is just humanitarian services, which is our responsibility, United States playing globally there; and other side it seems refugees issue became like industry. In Turkey, the UNHCR staff, some lawyers/attorneys, they take money from people, they make fake cases for them. Even they ask them: Hey, what country—which country would you like to go, United States, Canada, Scandinavian countries?
So what is our strategy? What is our solution to help real refugees or prevent produce refugees?
RICHARD: Well, there’s several things that are raised by your question. Turkey and, now we see, Russia have both been countries where we have seen instances where they can turn on the flow of refugees and turn it off. And Turkey was watching people walk through Turkey, cross the Mediterranean is very scary, dangerous trip between Turkey and Greece in these rubber boats in 2015, 2016, and then they would make their way onward, and then, because of this big EU-Turkey deal that involved 3 billion euros at the time, all of a sudden, the flow stopped. And then in further negotiations going on and on, Turkey would say things that seemed like it came right from a Godfather movie, like, gee, I’d hate to see that flow start up again; that would be a real shame. And so it was clear it was sort of a threat that if you didn’t cooperate it could play this very disruptive role on the edges of Europe and deploying people, as you said, which is so cruel not just to the people who are receiving them but to the individuals themselves that they’re not being seen as people who need care but instead as a problem to be deployed in different directions. And we saw that also with Belarus and Poland and now also it may have been part of the thinking of Vladimir Putin that by attacking Ukraine, by going to war with Ukraine that there would be exactly what is happening now, people scattering from Ukraine into Europe and that that would be a way to drive a wedge between European countries and cause a lot of not just heartache but also animosity between these countries. So what the Russians didn’t seem to appreciate this time was that there would be so much solidarity to help the Ukrainians, and that has been a bit of a surprise.
So you’ve also talked about corruption, though, and corruption is a problem all over the world for lots of different reasons, in business and it’s embedded in some societies in a way that sometimes people make cultural excuses for, but in reality we know it doesn’t have to be that way. But it is very hard to uproot and get rid of. So I find this work, the anti-corruption work going on around the world, really interesting and groups like Transparency International are just sort of fascinating as they try to really change the standards and the expectations from—the degree to which corruption is part of societies around the world. So UNHCR has to take great care to not hire people who are going to shake down and victimize refugees, and it’s not—there’s never a perfect situation, but I know that a lot of work is done to keep an eye on these kinds of programs so that the aid goes to the people who need it and it’s not sidetracked to go to bad guys. And the way I’ve seen it is, for example, if I travel overseas and I go to someplace where refugees are being resettled to the U.S. or they’re being interviewed for that, or I go to UNHCR office, there will be big signs up that will say the resettlement program does not cost money. If someone asks you for money, don’t pay it; you know, report this. And from time to time, there are mini scandals, but overall, it’s remarkable how much corruption is kept out of some of these programs. But it’s a never-ending fight. I agree with you in your analysis that this is a problem and in some countries more than others.
FASKIANOS: So I’m going to take the next question from Pamela Waldron-Moore, who’s the chair of the political science department at Xavier University in New Orleans. There are reports in some news feeds that African refugees from Ukraine are being disallowed entry to some states accepting refugees. I think you did allude to this. Is there evidence of this, and if so, can the UN stop it or alleviate that situation?
RICHARD: We saw before the Taliban took over in Afghanistan that some European countries were saying it was time for Afghans to go home again, and the idea that during this war it was safe for Afghans to go back—and especially for Afghans who are discriminated against even in the best of times in Afghanistan, like the Hazara minority. It’s just—I found that sort of unbelievable that some countries thought this was the right time to send people back to Afghanistan.
And so at the moment there’s a weird situation in Afghanistan because it’s safer in some ways for the bulk of the people because the active fighting has—in large parts of the country—stopped. But it’s deadly dangerous for human rights defenders, women leaders, LBGTQ folks—anyone who tries to stand up to the Taliban—you know, scholars, thinkers, journalists. And so those are the folks that, in smaller numbers, we need to find some kind of way to rescue them and get them to safety while they are still inside Afghanistan or if that’s outside Afghanistan and in the region.
The borders—the border situations change from time to time. For a while they were saying only people with passports could come out, and for most Afghan families, nobody had a passport or, if they did, it was a head of household had a passport for business or trade. But you wouldn’t have had passports for the spouse and the children. And so this has been a real dilemma.
We also see a whole series of barriers to people getting out; so first you need a passport, then you need a visa to where you’re going, and then you might need a transit visa for a country that you are crossing. And what has come to pass is that people who are trying to help evacuate people from Afghanistan—a smaller and smaller number as the months go on; people are trying to make this happen because it’s so hard—that they will only take people out of the country if they feel that their onward travel is already figured out and that they have their visas for their final-destination country. So the actual number that’s getting out are tiny.
And the people who have gotten out who are in either Pakistan or Iraq are very worried. And they’re afraid to be pushed back. They’re afraid they will run out of money. They are afraid—I think said this during my talk before—they’re afraid that there are people in Pakistan who will turn them in to the Taliban. And so it’s always hard to be a refugee, but right now it’s really frightening for people who are just trying to get to a safe place.
FASKIANOS: And in terms of the discrimination that you referenced for refugees leaving the Ukraine, I mean, there have been some reports of EU—discrimination in European countries not accepting—
RICHARD: Well, like African students who are studying in Ukraine—
RICHARD: —who were not treated as if they were fleeing a country at war—
RICHARD: —but instead were put in a different category and said, you know, go back, go home.
RICHARD: Yeah, that’s—that is quite blatant—
FASKIANOS: And there’s—
RICHARD: And that was happening at the borders.
FASKIANOS: Is there anything the UN can do about that, or is that really at the discretion of the countries—the accepting countries?
RICHARD: Well, the—yeah, the UNHCR has these reception centers that they’ve set up, including between the border of Poland and Ukraine, and I think the other neighboring countries. And so if one can get to the reception center, one could potentially get additional help or be screened into—for special attention for needing some help that maybe a white Christian Ukrainian who spoke more than one language of the region would not need.
FASKIANOS: Great. So let’s go to Susan Knott, who also wrote her question, but has raised her hand.
So Susan, why don’t you just ask your question? And please unmute and identify yourself.
KNOTT: OK, am I unmuted?
KNOTT: OK. I am Susan Knott, University of Utah, Educational Policy and Leadership doctoral program. I am also a practicum intern at ASU, and I’m also a refugee services collaborator. And I’m engaged in a research project creating college and university pathways for refugees to resettle.
I’m just wondering what your feel is about the current administration efforts in seeking to establish the pathway model similar to ASU’s Education for Humanity Initiative with Bard, and is there helping lead the Refugee Higher Education Access program that serves learners who require additional university-level preparation in order to transition into certificate and degree programs.
And I just—I’m not just—and all of this buzz that’s going on since all of terrible crises are occurring, I’m not seeing a whole lot that—based on my own experience working with refugee education and training centers at colleges—on the college level, and learning about the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Ed and Immigration. I’m just wondering—and they’re saying let’s have this be more of a privately funded or partnerships with the university scholarships and private entities.
What about a federally-funded university sponsorship program for refugee students given that the numbers or the data is showing that that age group is the largest number of just about every refugee population?
RICHARD: That’s a really fascinating set of issues. I’m not the expert on them, so I’m going to disappoint you. but I appreciate that you took a little extra time in how you stated your intervention to add a lot of information for this group, which should very much care about this.
I get a lot of questions every week about university programs that Afghan students could take advantage of. I don’t have a good handle on it, and I’m trying to do that with—I’m overdue for a conversation with Scholars at Risk in New York. Robert Quinn is the executive director of that, I believe.
And so I’m glad you raised this and I’m not going to have a lot of extra to say about it.
FASKIANOS: Anne, are there—is there—there’s a question in the chat in the Q&A about sources for data on U.S. initiatives toward refugees. Where would you direct people to go to get updates on the latest programs, et cetera?
RICHARD: Sometimes I’m embarrassed to say the best summaries are done by not-for-profits outside the government than by the government. The best source for data on resettlement of refugees to the U.S. is a website that is funded by the U.S. government called WRAPSNET.org—WRAPS spelled W-R-A-P-S-N-E-T dot-O-R-G.
And in double-checking some of the things last summer, I felt that DHS had better descriptions of some of the programs than the State Department did, and that’s my bureau that I used to—run, so—but they are responsible for determining who is in and who is out of these different programs, so maybe that’s why they do.
So there’s a lot on the DHS website that’s interesting if you are looking for more information. And one of the things the Council does, it has done a number of these special web presentations: one on refugees that I got to help on a couple of years ago, and I think there’s one up now on Ukrainians. And this is the type of public education function that the Council does so well I think because they fact-check everything, and so it’s very reliable.
FASKIANOS: Thank you for that plug. You can find it all on CFR.org—lots of backgrounders, and timelines, and things like that.
So we don’t have that much time left, so I’m going to roll up two questions—one in the Q&A box and one because of your vast experience.
So what role do NGOs play in refugee crises and migration initiatives, particularly in resettlement?
And just from your perspective, Anne, you have been in academia, you’ve worked in the government, you worked at IRC, and now are at Freedom House. And so just—again, what would you share with the group about pursuing a career in this—government, non-government perspectives and, what students should be thinking about as they launch to their next phase in life.
RICHARD: Yeah, that we could have a whole ‘nother hour on, right? That’s—(laughs)—
FASKIANOS: I know, I know. It’s unfair to, right, do this at the very end, but—
RICHARD: NGOs play really important roles in both the delivery of humanitarian assistance overseas and the help for resettlement in the United States. In the U.S. there are nine national networks of different groups; six are faith-based, three are not. They are non-sectarian, and they do amazing work on shoe-string budgets to—everything from meeting refugees at the airport, taking them to an apartment, showing them how the lights work and the toilet flushes, and coming back the next day, making sure they have an appropriate meal to have, and that the kids get in school, that people who need health care get it, and that adults who are able-bodied get jobs so they can support themselves.
The other type of NGO are the human rights NGOs that now I’m doing more with, and I guess if you are thinking about careers in these, you have to ask yourself, you know, are you more of a pragmatic person where the most important thing is to save a life, or are you an idealist where you want to put out standards that are very high and push people to live up to them. Both types of organizations definitely help, but they just have very different ways of working.
Another question for students is do you want high job security of a career in the U.S. government—say, as a Foreign Service Officer or as a civil servant where maybe you won’t move up very quickly, but you might have great sense of satisfaction that the things you were working on were making a difference because they were being decisively carried out by the U.S. or another government. Or do you prefer the relatively lean, flatter organizations of the NGO world where, as a young person, you can still have a lot of authority, and your views can be seen—can be heard by top layers because you’re not that far away from them. And so, NGOs are seen as more nimble, more fast moving, less job security. Having done both I think it really depends on your personality.
Working in the government, you have to figure out a way to keep going even when people tell you no. You have figure out—or that it’s hard, or that it’s too complicated. You have to figure out ways to find the people who are creative, and can make thing happen, and can open doors, and can cut through red tape.
In NGOs you can have a lot of influence. I was so surprised first time I was out of the State Department working for the International Rescue Committee one of my colleagues was telling me she just picks up the phone and calls the key guy on Capitol Hill and tells him what the law should be. That would never happen with a junior person in the U.S. government. You have to go through so many layers of bureaucracy, and approvals, and clearances. So, really, it depends on the type of person you are, and how you like to work, and the atmosphere in which you like to work.
I can tell you you won’t get rich doing this type of work, unfortunately. But you might be able to make a decent living. I certainly have, and so I encourage students to either do this as a career or find ways to volunteer part-time, even if it’s tutoring a refugee kid down the block and not in some glamorous overseas location. I think you can get real sense of purpose out of doing this type of work.
Thank you, Irina.
FASKIANOS: Thank you very much. And I have to say that your careful definitions of the different categories—and really, I think we all need to be more intentional about how we explain, talk about these issues because they are so complex, and there are so many dimensions, and it’s easy to make gross generalizations. But the way you laid this out was really, really important for deepening the understanding of this really—the challenge and the—what we’re seeing today. So thank you very much.
RICHARD: Thank you. Thanks, everybody.
FASKIANOS: So thanks to all—yeah, thanks to everybody for your great questions. Again, I apologize; we’re three minutes over. I couldn’t get to all your questions, so we will just have to continue looking at this issue.
We will be announcing the fall Academic Webinar lineup in a month or so in our Academic Bulletin, so you can look for it there. Good luck with your end of the year, closing out your semester.
And again, I encourage you to go to CFR.org, ForeignAffairs.com, and ThinkGlobalHealth.org for research analysis on global issues. And you can follow us on Twitter at @CFR_Academic.
So again, thank you, Anne Richard. Good luck to you all with finals, and have a good summer.