International refugee crisis demands local attention

Laura Hallas

The pictures tell the story. Huddled masses, standoffs with police, children lying dead on beaches. Images and stories of the European refugee crisis have shocked the world into a conversation about refugees and a greater awareness of their needs — one that students and local refugee populations could benefit from.

Europe’s situation has been called the worst refugee crisis since World War II. More than a half million people displaced by the Syrian civil war and the Islamic State group are looking to resettle in Europe and around the world. Infrastructure in the surrounding areas is not strong enough to handle the influx, causing refugees to suffer.

There needs to be more concern about displaced persons and refugees here at UT. A global university needs to actively confront global issues. Faculty members have offered commentary through conferences and law school clinics about big-picture issues, but more could be done to help the displaced persons already here in Austin.

International students make up 10 percent of the total student body but can be isolated when conflicts arise back home and cut off their funding. Student visa money cannot be used to support students in dire need unless they apply for economic hardship. This application takes months to process and costs $380, potentially leaving students without relief or unable to pay the fee.

Margaret Luévano, assistant director of Student Advising Services, said donations for an emergency relief fund would be the best way to alleviate this situation.

This is a solution donors and UT funding should support. Either these students are able to pay these fees and continue their education, or their immigration status is violated and they are forced to leave.

“I see that students are such an asset to our universities and our culture because they are bringing such diverse experiences to our communities, and some of the things that they are doing are incredible,” Luévano said. “The more barriers we put up for students, the harder it is to attract that type of talent that we want here.”

A request for funding is easier said than done, but Austin’s refugee organizations have the potential to create massive impacts with the right awareness and volunteers. The Multicultural Refugee Coalition and the Liberal Arts Refugee Alliance are two organizations that recruit volunteers to help the growing Austin refugee population — the fourth largest in the state.

“[Volunteering] is a chance to say that Austin is your home, the community wants to welcome you, wants to show we care,” LARA social chair Anita Farsad said. “There are so many people in the U.S., and everyone is from somewhere that is not here.”

With the international focus on refugees at an all-time high, there is an opportunity to set the example in Austin. Through volunteering and donations, we can build the kind of support network needed to avoid further refugee suffering as seen in the news every day and bolster UT’s international reputation
in the process.

Hallas is a Plan II and human development freshman from Allen. Follow her on Twitter @LauraHallas.