Tags Posts tagged with "Refugees"


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Virginia Gallner

Before the executive order and the election, fear and prejudice tainted many Americans’ perception of immigrants and refugees. The Refugee Perspective started in an Honors Colloquium with the goal of making lasting change on these mindsets. We approached this goal of behavior change by creating a series of short documentary videos showing the stories of UNO students who are also refugees. Our campaign seeks to show the human side of the refugee crisis, the people whose struggle has been so maligned by those who are driven by fear of the unknown.

The focal point of the documentary videos is Paw Htoo, a biology student and refugee. In the documentary she said, “I was born in Thailand, but America is my home.”

When she tells people about her home country, at first they might speak of the beautiful landscapes and delicious food. She never got to experience the beauty of her homeland because the first fourteen years of her life were spent in a refugee camp.

When we launched our social media campaign last semester, we never envisioned the obstacles that would arise in the changing political climate, or the personal growth we would experience through our work. The recent executive order, directed towards immigrants and refugees from Muslim-majority countries, exemplifies many of the xenophobic sentiments we have seen in both the research and implementation phases of our campaign.

As we saw how the events progressed, we became even more passionate about our work. Nick Lauber, a senior in the IT Innovation program who worked on the experimental aspects of our campaign, said, “I grew to care about more than just refugee issues. This campaign allowed me to become more comfortable arguing for what I believe is right.”

We sought to change perspectives on refugees through our social media campaign. In particular, we wanted to see uncommitted populations commit to a stance of understanding towards refugees. In order to achieve this, we created a multi-tiered approach modeled on the recruitment strategies of far-right extremists, because research has shown that these strategies are incredibly successful in influencing the minds of uncommitted populations.

The heart of our campaign was dinner with a refugee family, which we filmed for a short documentary. We brought members of our target population to dinner with a refugee family from Thailand. The family offered them a warm welcome, but when it came time to eat, they did not sit down and join their guests. It is in their culture for the hosts to wait while the guests sit and enjoy their meal. This culture difference astonished our student participants – but it demonstrates the universality of kindness across cultural bounds.

Through our work with the Applied Behavioral Research Lab in the UNO College of Business, we designed a neurophysiological experiment that quantifiably measures our success rate. With eye tracking technologies, we found that participants paid three times more attention to ads regarding refugees after watching our documentary videos.

Similarly, we saw a 13 percent reduction in implicit bias in our participants when asked whether they believed students like them would feel safe knowing refugees are present in every state.

Our campaign was part of a national competition funded by the EdVentures Program and Homeland Security. After huge success, garnering over 76,000 interactions on Facebook and gaining national attention for our efforts, we were selected to present our work in Washington DC. We placed fourth nationally out of the original 250 teams who participated.

As part of our trip to DC, we visited the United States Holocaust Museum. This experience was a fitting finish to the week, as we walked through this devastating history together. One of the newest features in the museum was a portal. We conversed with people in a Iraq refugee camp face-to-face through a webcam and live interpreter. Standing there with Paw, watching her exchange stories with refugees an ocean away from us, was an incredibly moving experience. This moment provided human faces for the people we had come there to support.

We will be continuing our work as student organization The Refugee Perspective by partnering with campus and community organizations. It is more important than ever to transform uncertainty into understanding.

Charlotte Reilly

Following in the footsteps of several other universities, University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds sent out a university-wide letter in response to President Trump’s executive order, which temporarily bans refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The University of Nebraska system has around 150 students, faculty and staff members from the seven countries listed in the immigration ban, according to Bounds’ letter.

UNO graduates, including Ebrahim Abdulsattar, are also affected by the immigration bad.
Abdulsattar graduated from UNO in 2015. He was born in Yemen and said he felt encouraged by the support offered in Bounds’ letter.

“It makes me feel like I still belong,” Abdulsattar said. “Omaha is my second home. I’m truly thankful to the Nebraskan people because they’ve helped me be where I am today. Whatever happens at the government level, people haven’t changed.”

Abdulsattar first came to the U.S. for a student exchange program at age 15. Once he completed the program, he returned to Yemen until he came to UNO when he was 20 years old. Now, he works at First Data and hosts Syrian refugees.

All his family lives in Yemen, and he can’t visit them because he wouldn’t be allowed back in the country.
“With this executive order, you either have to sacrifice your future that you worked for or sacrifice the family you haven’t seen for five years,” Abdulsattar said.

His siblings have grown up without him. One of his brothers is seven years younger than he is. The last time Abdulsattar saw him, his brother was a little boy.

“Whenever you go to a really great place, there’s always the thought in the back of your head of ‘I wish my mother saw that’ or ‘I wish my sister saw that,’” Abdulsattar said. “There’s a piece of you missing because your family is not there. You’re not complete.”

Abdulsattar said the international presence at UNO helps expand people’s awareness of other cultures and allows students to develop relationships with people from different cultures.

“It makes you stop, take a minute and think about others as people. People on the left have valid points. People on the right have valid points. Not all are true or false,” Abdulsattar said. “If you can sit together and hash out what is true and what’s false, you can come to an understanding. If you just sit on your pedestal on both ends, you won’t move anywhere.”

Parwin Ibrahimi, who is a staff assistant for UNO’s School of Communication and a refugee, has also felt the affects of the immigration ban.

Ibrahimi, who was born in Afghanistan, was admitted to the United States as a refugee in September of 1980.
Ibrahimi’s family decided to leave Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion.

“If we were caught, we would be put in jail,” Ibrahimi said. “Another family was caught and they were all captured, put in jail and to this day I have no idea what happened to them.”

Her sister was a well-known doctor in the area, and one of her patients lived on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Ibrahimi and her family crossed the border into Pakistan overnight and stayed with her sister’s patient. Ibrahimi was nine months pregnant at the time.

“Twenty-five of us were in a mini pickup,” Ibrahimi said. “There was hardly any room to even hang onto something. Some people were hanging from the back.”

They had to cross the border with only the clothes they were wearing. Any bags would’ve drawn suspicion. Ibrahimi’s sister made her family wear her gold jewelry so she wouldn’t have to leave it behind.

After Ibrahimi’s son was born in Pakistan, the family moved to India for 11 months. A year after fleeing Afghanistan, their paperwork to come to the United States was processed.

Now, Ibrahimi and her family have been here for over 35 years.

Recently, someone asked Ibrahimi where she was from.

She replied, “I’m from Nebraska.”

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Marin Krause

“I think that if this bill was passed two years ago, I wouldn’t be standing here,” says Shafiq Jahish, who was granted a special permission visa issued by the United States for almost 10 years of service as an interpreter for the U.S. military in Afghanistan.

Jahish was one of the many voices that spoke against LB 966 at a public hearing in front of the Judiciary Committee of the Nebraska’s legislature this February.

Senator Kintner of District 2 in Papillion was the one to introduce the bill but didn’t want it to pass through the Committee because he says it needs revision. The public hearing served as an opportunity for both sides of the argument to voice their opinions.

The bill would require Nebraska agencies which would resettle refugees to prove that they would be able to cover up to $25 million dollars for any criminal acts committed by a refugee within the first five years of resettlement in the state.

The bill included 33 “high-risk” countries and the territories of Palestine, which all but three, including North Korea, Russia, Kyrgystan, are predominately Muslim.

“There is a real fear and founded fear by Nebraskans that this president is going to bring in people from countries with a lot of terrorism and place them in Nebraska,” says Kintner.

Kintner says that the legislature wouldn’t be able to revise a potentially bad federal program or stop the United States from taking in refugees but this program would help discourage state agencies to reconsider taking in refugees from places like Syria and Iraq.

Although, the bill was not passed, Todd Reckling, vice president of programs for Lutheran Family Services (LFS) says that if it were his organization would not be able to comply if LB 966 went through the committee.

In his testimony, Reckling said that coverage needed in the bill was not available from the organization’s provider, but also “LFS would have to pay $783,000 per day until we were in compliance with the insurance coverage required.”

Not only was money an issue for LFS, Reckling says the organization has problems with the constitutionality of the bill as well.

“We very much believe that the bill discriminates against certain types of refugees because of their national of origin,” says Reckling.

This bill was proposed late in 2015 after the United States announced for the acceptance of 10,000 Syrian refugees over the course this year.

Only 3,000 people fleeing from the crisis in Syria have been accepted into the U.S. and none of which have been settled in Nebraska.