How do we define a new paradigm in a world with so many refugees? And what are the economic and social consequences resulting from their migration? As journalist Jeanne Carstensen asks and other journalists echo, "Are these people refugees? Or are they people on the move?" On Wednesday, April 19, 2017, at Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College in New York, Pulitzer Center grantee journalists Carstensen, Robin Shulman, and Emily Kassie explored these themes in their reporting and discussed the current state of the refugee crisis.
Co-hosted by the Pulitzer Center, Hunter College, and Guttman Community College, in collaboration with Roosevelt House, the panel event was introduced by Kem Knapp Sawyer, Pulitzer Center contributing editor, and moderated by Sissel McCarthy, director of the Journalism Program at Hunter College Film and Media Studies.
Honored to mark the inaugural event of the Pulitzer Center partnership with Hunter College and Guttman Community College, Sawyer spoke to the historical significance of the Roosevelt House, "As the author of an Eleanor Roosevelt biography for young readers, I was thrilled to learn that we would hold this panel discussion at the Roosevelt House, home to Eleanor starting in 1908. For Eleanor herself was a journalist (writing a column six days a week between 1935 and 1962). As a U.S. delegate to the United Nations, Eleanor was the force behind the writing and the adoption (in 1948) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the document that reaffirmed faith in individual rights—to leave and return to a country, to seek political protection, to be assured of housing, food, medical care, education, and freedom of thought and religion—rights now denied to so many refugees around the world and that others—like Eleanor—continue to fight for."
Relaying stories from the field, the three journalists took an audience of more than 100 people, including students and community members, into the refugee camps, asylum regions, and fragile states encompassed in the crisis. They also discussed the risks and advantages of being female in gaining access to sources.
Kassie illuminated the impact of migration on the global economy and areas of refugee exploitation. Speaking of her travels in Sicily, Kassie showed two photos—one of a vibrant market, with fruits and vegetables and people singing songs, the other showing the same setting at night—the area transformed into a string of Nigerian drug dens. Kassie went undercover to see the drug dens and brothels of women who had no way out.
"Dismantling this system will take a lot of external pressure," she said.
Shulman shared stories of the people welcoming families of Syrian refugees into their homes under government resettlement policies in the U.S. and Canada.
"The refugee crisis has come to be a crucible for global politics. How can we create a level playing field so we see them as equals?" she began. Shulman presented the outlook Canadian families had on their role in aiding refugees and how that impacted the refugee families they served. "It was extraordinary to me—part of that was the sense of welcome." The father of the family she followed to Canada had been through so much, but now he could "believe in humanity again."
Carstensen began on a positive note, saying, "There is an ecosystem of helping in these islands—it was beautiful to see." Her recent reporting focused on the island of Lesbos, an epicenter of the refugee flight, and on situations that may await refugees if they make it to Europe. She relayed stories of young men filled with hope for the future but anxious about learning the language, finding a job, and maintaining their freedom amidst blanket detention for asylum seekers.
During the Q&A, the group explored questions of gender and safety, related to reporting within states in flux. The audience also prompted discussion surrounding the choices journalists make between directly aiding the people they interview and maintaining the integrity of their reporting. The conversation from the audience turned toward what the U.S. could do to help, and the responses, while varied, surrounded a theme—the need for America to focus on its policies within the global landscape.
Kassie concluded with hopes that this reporting gives us a sense of compassion when we are dealing with the people who are suffering as a result of the consequences of conflict in the Middle East.
To see more grantee reporting on refugee migration, check out the Pulitzer Center e-book Flight from Syria: Refugee Stories.
This event was made possible with support from the Educational Foundation of America and was part of a two-day visit to Hunter College and Guttman Community College, two of the newest Campus Consortium partners.