Migrants as actual people, not statistics, was the topic of a panel discussion in Pittsburgh that sought to draw attention to the stories of individuals – with their hopes and challenges – in the current global migration crisis. Barbara Gagliotti of AVSI-USA moderated the discussion at the annual Festival of Friendship which featured Ilaria Schnyder, research professor at the University of Notre Dame, Marie L’Hermine, Partnership Development Officer at AVSI-USA and Wasi Mohamed, Executive Director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh. The discussion offered a human starting point by shifting the question from how we face immigration in the abstract to how we face immigrants – telling real stories of real people in context.
Marie L’Hermine detailed AVSI’s work with refugees and displaced peoples in Africa. Because of the devastating crisis in Syria, she noted, most of the world’s attention has been focused on refugees making the dangerous Mediterranean crossing. Yet, according to the United Nations, developing countries, mostly in Africa, are taking in a disproportionate number of refugees — currently 80% of the world’s refugee population. Marie illustrated AVSI’s approach, which starts from looking at people as inherently valuable rather than inherently problematic, by sharing a video of Teddy Bongomi. Teddy was victim of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and was subsequently forced to leave her village. Once a beneficiary of AVSI programs, she is now a social worker for vulnerable women in Kampala and in the video she recounts her own journey to self-awareness.
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