Amnesty International chapter hosts discussion on misconceptions about migrants

Rund Khayyat

As refugee death tolls continue to rise, misconceptions about migrants and refugees must be addressed, said a representative of Amnesty International at a presentation Tuesday about the migrant crisis in Europe.

“Many countries have closed their doors to Syrian refugees, due to xenophobic thoughts that an influx of Muslims would hurt them,” French junior Emily Nagel said. “Not only is this statistically incorrect, it is extremely racist and wrong.”

The European Union is facing the largest influx of migrants since World War II, according to the United Nations Human Rights Watch. Countries are taking measures to keep out migrants. Recently, Hungary built an electric fence along its border with Serbia to keep refugees out of the country, Nagel said.

The U.S. has agreed to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees, according to statement made by the White House on Sept. 10. Isabella Bejar, co-president of Amnesty International, said the number should be higher.

“In the scheme of things, that is pretty low, because the U.S is such a powerful country,” journalism senior Bejar said. “We clearly have our own issues with racism and immigration.”

The group is partnering with the Joel Nefuma Refugee Center to educate students about global issues they may be aware of but don’t understand their full impact, said Jonathan Rufrano, club co-president and international relations and global studies junior.

“Homelessness is a huge problem in Austin, but UT students are so desensitized they don’t do anything to help,” Rufrano said. “That’s really sad. We are trying to work with spotlight issues that need to be addressed in a timed manner before they go away.”

The European Union’s 2013 Dublin Regulation, which states refugees must remain in the countries in which they first arrive, has made it more difficult for refugees to reach countries offering asylum.

“Refugees are going through countries like Italy or Spain in order to get to other countries, like the Baltics, who provide benefits for those seeking asylum,” Nagel said. “Instead, they keep getting sent back.”

By working to educate students through its partnership, Amnesty is helping to dispel misconceptions, said Nagel.

“Through education, we take the step back and remember this is a problem, and these are people regardless of race, ethnicity and religion,” said Nagel. “They are people, and they need help.”

Misconceptions about Syrian refugees come from a disconnect, said Rufrano.

“Many people can’t even put Syria on a map, this is largely true for Americans.” Rufrano said. “There is a disconnect, because a lot of European countries are trying to keep their nationalities separate and hold onto their culture. This causes xenophobia.”