Saving the World’s Refugees, Syria and Beyond

Saving the World’s Refugees, Syria and Beyond

The “Saving the world’s refugees, Syria and beyond” panel of the 2016 Aurora Dialogues featured some of the world’s foremost humanitarians involved in governmental and institutional policymaking that affects the lives of millions of refugees. The panel was opened by Vigen Sargsyan, chief of the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Armenia. Sargsyan recalled the centennial commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, which took place last year, and emphasized the fact that “It is not only Armenia’s right, but also Armenia’s duty to organize forums about the crime of Genocide.”

Following Sargsyan, Gareth Evans, former foreign minister of Australia, president emeritus of International Crisis Group and a member of the Aurora Prize Selection Committee, took the stage. Evans delivered a keynote address, focusing on the shortcomings of the international response to the global refugee crisis. Nevertheless, he noted that “Two things can be done now: one is to try to resolve the problem at the source by removing the fear people face [at home] and to treat with humanity, decency and dignity those who have fled.”


          Session panelist Gareth Evans, former Foreign Minister of Australia

Moderating the panel was Gillian Sorensen, board member of the International Rescue Committee and senior advisor at the United Nations Foundation. As an American, she noted that all Americans “were refugees at one point.” Sorensen then introduced Enrique Eguren, president of the board of Protection International, an organization that aims to protect human rights workers. Asked for his thoughts about the refugee crisis, Eguren was lucid and succinct: “We have a complex problem and we have to come up with a complex solution.”



           Session moderator Gillian Sorensen and panelist Gareth Evans

Speaking next was President Emeritus of the Open Society Foundation Aryeh Neier, a former refugee himself. He was critical of some of the European countries’ response to the refugee crisis, calling them “dishonorable.” However, Neier singled out German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying that she “should be honored for playing that kind of role [as a leader in taking in refugees].”

During the question and answer session, a Turkish reporter from Bianet asked about the ongoing negotiations between the European Union and Turkey concerning the Syrian refugee crisis. Responding frankly, Evans noted that the deal was “not the happiest of solutions,” while adding, “it does have the potential of stopping those people from taking those dangerous trips. It’s not an exercise for purists, but it was something to alleviate the problem we were faced with,” he said.

Another question, this one by a female lawyer from Iran, lent a viscerally human element to the discussion. She invoked the story of a 16-year old boy who hung himself in a refugee camp in Germany, and asked whether Europe is a safe place for refugees when they arrive. In response, Neier said he believes that “It’s necessary to try to call attention to episodes of that sort of story in order to dramatize the human cost of some of the policies implemented today.”


                  Aryeh Neier, Enrique Eguren and Gillian Sorensen

Neier continued by placing special focus on political leadership: “One of the things that can be said is that political leadership is all important. When a country acts in an ungenerous spirit, the political leaders of that country are exploiting the fears of that country’s citizens. When a country acts in a generous fashion, it is because leaders are willing to take political risks. We need to emphasize leadership that takes an instructive role and leadership that takes a destructive role.”

Gareth Evans delivered the most poignant message of the panel, one that summed up its spirit: “Energizing the bottom up pressure should be the advocacy task for all of us.”