Lecturers at the UT Baker Center spoke on the crises of refugees following wars and conflicts.
“Refugees are fleeing their countries. They are forced to leave their countries. It’s not a choice,” said Drocella Mugorewera, executive director of Bridge Refugee Services Inc. and a former refugee from the Republic of Rwanda.
“You flee because your life is in danger.”
The lecturers explained that refugees are the forgotten people of war. The situations that cause refugees to flee their native countries can range from political and economic conflicts to a repression of basic human rights.
“The definition of refugees is set out by the League of Nations,” said Tricia Hepner, an associate professor of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee.
A refugee is someone who fears persecution based on factors including race, religion and political affiliation within their native land.
Many refugees cannot return to their native country, even after the war or conflict is over.
“There’s obvious and not so obvious reasons why people can’t go back,” said Hepner. “War is very destructive. Often times your home has been destroyed, your entire community has been destroyed. There is nothing for you to return back to.”
Associate director of One Earth Future and former UT Political Science professor Curtis Bell explained why governments should step up to help refugees.
“Unless governments and national organizations act, and act quickly, illicit transnational criminal organizations will fill the voids that are being left,” he said. “That’s going to have terrible consequences not only for migrants, but for the communities they’re both departing and arriving in.”
The lecture had a large audience, nearly filling the medium-sized auditorium. Some audience members were former refugees themselves. Others in attendance included residents wanting to learn more about the refugee dilemma.
Mugorewera also addressed the fears that many Americans have of incoming refugees.
“The way to fight fear is to get involved with refugees,” she said.
For more information on refugees in the Knoxville area, visit https://www.bridgerefugees.org/.