By Anthony Lemieux and Alexandra Pauley
Few issues are as pressing and challenging as the complex interplay between forced migration, immigration and security. In the global city of Atlanta, we have a unique opportunity to study the causes, consequences and responses to significant and rapid increases in forced migration and immigration more broadly.
For us, this is not solely an abstract exercise, but rather one that has deep significance for our city, our economy and our university. On March 30, Georgia State University’s Global Studies Institute hosted an inaugural Emerging Global Issues Forum that focused on these issues.
In her opening address to the audience of about 150 attendees, Cécile Riallant, head of the United Nations Joint Migration and Development Initiative, framed the scale of the challenge we face.
“Every minute, an average of 20 people are displaced worldwide,” she said, noting that the drivers of forced displacement are not simply political, but also an incapacity of states to provide security to their own citizens, fragility, natural disasters like those caused by climate changes, abuse and violence, persecution and discrimination, among many others.
Speakers addressed the most critical issues in understanding the risks and benefits of refugee resettlement and immigration. This included exploring the concerns and fears in many Americans’ minds about immigration to the United States.
Haris Lalacos, the ambassador of Greece to the United States, pointed out that this concern is not unique to the U.S. He noted that “the terrorism from the last two to three years has come mostly from people who were born and raised in the countries they attacked,” a point that was emphasized by Arun Kundnani, author of “The Muslims are Coming.”
Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry discussed the immense benefits that having a large immigrant and refugee population bring to his city. He noted that since the influx of refugees, crime in Clarkston has decreased.
The Consul General of Mexico in Atlanta, Javier Diaz de Leon, pointed out the importance of economic opportunities as a reason for migration, and with Guadalupe Correa-Cabreras, a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Center at Princeton University, noted there are a multitude of reasons and drivers for migration. Each of these reasons feeds into one another – economic issues into political issues, and political issues into security matters.
Anne C. Richard, who previously served as the assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, noted the interface among government, academia and beyond could address these challenges, and she called for a deep and sustained engagement.
The forum also included moving and deeply personal accounts of working with Syrian refugees at a camp in Lebanon, which Dr. Omar Lattouf, M.D., of Emory University described as a deeply transformative experience.
In his keynote address, Dr. Heval Kelli, M.D., recounted his personal journey as a Syrian Kurdish refugee who grew up partially in a German refugee camp before immigrating to the United States, and then worked as a dishwasher to help support his family while attending school. Dr. Kelli became a cardiologist, and his brother is a prominent surgeon. Their stories are not only of perseverance, but also of community support from a local church, of people who intervened to help Kelli find his way and of the great benefit and skills that refugees add to American society.
The Emerging Global Issues Forum brought together a wonderfully diverse group, including members of the community, researchers, policy-makers, practitioners and students. They were motivated to broaden their perspectives, to find ways to work together and to make a difference. It is a fine representation of our focus at Georgia State on building a culture of thinking across disciplinary boundaries to address the world’s most difficult problems, so we can work together in creating solutions for pressing global problems.
Anthony Lemieux is the director of the Global Studies Institute and professor of global studies and communication at Georgia State University. Alexandra Pauley is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Georgia State.