Campus News

UB events focus on world’s refugee crisis

Syrian refugees.

The world's refugee crisis will be the focus of a series of events this spring sponsored by several units at UB.


Published March 21, 2016 This content is archived.

Hilary Weaver.
“Not only do we have a responsibility to know about major world events, we have a responsibility to combine that knowledge and awareness with compassion. ”
Hilary Weaver, professor of social work and co-director
Immigrant and Refugee Research Institute

We’ve all seen the heart-wrenching stories on the television news shows for many month now, stories of Syrians fleeing their homeland on foot and by boat in the hopes of escaping the violence and settling in Europe. And stories of migrants from Africa making the equally harrowing boat trip across the Mediterranean.

But what about the larger story? What does this migration mean for those experiencing it? What do refugees find when they arrive in Europe? In Buffalo?

The School of Social Work, the Community for Global Health Equity and the Alison Des Forges Memorial Committee are coming together this spring to present a series of free events — film screenings, symposia and a health summit — focusing on the world’s refugee crisis.

“The massive migration of people seeking safety from war-torn areas of the Middle East has drawn international attention and also hits close to home,” says Hilary Weaver, professor of social work and co-director of the Immigrant and Refugee Research Institute at UB. “Buffalo has become a city known for its ability to welcome refugees and, indeed, some who come to the area as refugees go on to further their education at UB.

“It is important that UB, an educational institution that engages issues of migration through classes and research, host these events to help educate us about and connect us with issues in our world and community,” Weaver says. “Not only do we have a responsibility to know about major world events, we have a responsibility to combine that knowledge and awareness with compassion.

“These UB-sponsored events are important ways that both the university and broader Western New York community can become engaged with issues around migrant flows and refugees.”

The first event in the series is a screening of the documentary “A Requiem for Syrian Refugees” at 6 p.m. March 30 in 120 Clemens Hall, North Campus. Directed by Richard Wolf, the film offers an unprecedented, in-depth look at the daily lives of refugees as they take this daunting journey.

Two short films, “A Syrian Story about the Future” and “A Young Syrian Refugee’s Journey to America,” also will be shown.

The screenings will be followed by a discussion moderated by Gamileh Jamil, executive director of ACCESS WNY — the Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services.

The following day, a symposium titled “Syrian Refugees: Buffalo Responds” will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Buffalo & Erie County Central Library, 1 Lafayette Square in downtown Buffalo.

The symposium will explore the cause, the context, the impact abroad, the impact on the individual and the impact on the community of the Syrian refugee crisis.

Delivering the keynote address, “Mental Health Issues of Syrians Affected by Armed Conflict,” will be Hussam Jefee-Bahloul, assistant professor of psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School. Also speaking will be Sarita Fritzler of Save the Children, who will talk about issues involving child refugees.

Several UB faculty members also will give presentations. Deborah Reed-Danahay, professor and Jean Monnet Chair of Anthropology, will discuss the European view of the Syrian refugee crisis; Kim Griswold, associate professor of family medicine and psychiatry, will talk about refugees’ medical needs; and Othman Shibly, clinical associate professor, School of Dental Medicine, will speak about his humanitarian efforts in Syria and in refugee camps in Turkey.

A panel of experts from Buffalo area agencies that assist refugees will address legal concerns, housing and educational needs, healing from trauma and the importance of community-building.

To register, visit the symposium’s website or call (716) 645-1262.

The film screenings and symposium are sponsored by the School of Social Work.

The Third Annual WNY Refugee Health Summit, organized by UB’s Community for Global Health Equity and the Office of Global Health Initiatives in the School of Public Health and Health Professions, will take place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 2 in UB’s Educational Opportunity Center, 555 Ellicott St. on the UB Downtown Campus.

The summit brings together practitioners, researchers, policy-makers, and members of resettlement and refugee communities to examine the barriers — and explore solutions — to providing culturally engaged health care to refugees.

Issam Smeir, a licensed clinical counselor who specializes in trauma treatment for refugees, will deliver the keynote address, “Battling on Two Fronts: Trauma and Cultural Adjustment.”

The summit will include updates on local refugee health programs and projects, a panel session focused on trauma and cultural competency, and training on “conflict and peacemaking across cultures.”

Those who register will receive breakfast and lunch. While the morning session is free, the fee for attending the afternoon training session is $10. To register, visit the Community for Global Health Equity website, email or 716-829-5371.

The final event in the series, an international symposium on “Refugees, Migrants, Human Trafficking and Slavery,” will examine the historical roots and global dimensions of the contemporary explosion of human trafficking and forced migration from Africa and the Middle East to Europe.

Presented by the Alison Des Forges Memorial Committee, it will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 14 in 120 Clemens Hall.

Here is a quote from Roger Des Forges:   “Along with global warming and social inequality, the related issue of human trafficking is one of the most pressing in our time,” says Roger Des Forges, UB professor emeritus of history, member of the Alison Des Forges Memorial Committee and husband of Alison Des Forges. “This symposium is designed to expose the roots of the current crises in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, and to reflect on how we in North America may adopt wiser policies and more responsible lifestyles to promote peace and justice for all peoples.”

The symposium will attempt to uncover the sources of the current crisis and explore possible solutions.

Presenting at the first panel, “From the Middle East and Africa to Europe,” will be:

  • Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division, “Drivers of Displacement: How War, Repression, Terror and Neglect led to Europe’s Refugee Catastrophe.”
  • Karen Jacobsen, associate research professor and acting director, Feinstein International Center, The Fletcher School, Tufts University, “Understanding Migration from Sub-Saharan Africa to Europe: Might Efforts to Stem the Flow Work?”
  • Julia Hall, Amnesty International, “Refugees Welcome? How Europe’s Incoherent Policy, Scapegoating and Exploitation of Terrorism Have Failed Refugees.”

The second panel, titled “Within Africa and From Africa to North America,” will focus on slavery and child trafficking. Speaking will be:

  • Karen Stauss, director of programs, Free the Slaves, “Fighting Slavery from the Grassroots Up.”
  • James Kofi Annan, founder, Challenging Heights, Ghana, “The Holistic Protection and Empowerment of Children in Ghana.”
  • Evelyn Chumbow, survivor of and activist against anti-human trafficking, “From Cameroon to the U.S. and From Slavery to Freedom.”

 For further information on the film screenings and the “Syrian Refugees: Buffalo Responds” symposium, contact Pat Shelly at (716) 645-1262 or; for information about the WNY Refugee Health Summit, contact Jessica Scates at or 716-829-5371; and for information on the “Refugees, Migrants, Human Trafficking and Slavery” symposium, contact Ellen Dussourd at 716-645-2258 or, or Shaun Irlam at 716-359-2222 or