Many people might not even know the meaning of the word refugee, but it was spoken loud and clear at an MCCC panel discussion on the refugee crisis.
Joanna Sabo, a professor of Political Science at MCCC, went through a slideshow on some of the issues that refugees typically face. She also gave a definition of a refugee.
“A refugee is outside of their home country, and is unable or unwilling to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group and/or political opinion,” Sabo said.
The five panelists sat at two white tables talking about the issues that refugees have to deal with in today’s society.
Panel members were Vinnie Maltese, the dean of the Math/Science Division at MCCC; Charles Friedline, the Upward Bound academic skills coordinator (Airport); Niles Williamson, writer and editor for the World Socialist website; Zeina Hamade, community outreach coordinator for the Detroit Office of U.S; and Sabo.
Kayla Corne, a former MCCC student and member of the International Studies Club, also spoke. She was one of the MCCC students who visited a refugee center in Arizona last spring.
Corne noted the high percentage of refugees who are families.
“The sad truth is that 80 percent of all refugees are women and children having to leave their home and everything they know. And a lot of times they leave other family members behind to flee for safety,” Corne said.
Corne described what a refugee might go through when traveling to another country for refuge.
“So how we can help understand what refugees go through — they leave under crazy circumstances that they have to get out of,” she said.
“The first thing that they have to do is leave their first country, their home country. Their ultimate goal is to return back to that country, but that is not always the case.
“So from there, they go to a second country and they wait there to be transported to the third country. From that third country they then come to the United States or other countries that accept refugees and find homes there in the new place.”
Maltese spoke about his own experience with refugees while he was in the Merchant Marines.
He saw people get into boats in Vietnam that were too small to carry them. He talked about the great lengths that some would go to just to get away from the country they were in.
“There would be many more people than could safely be on those small wooden boats, and if you have ever been to sea, there’s waves and swells; it’s very hard to see a small boat,” he said.
“So what these people would do is, they would light their wooden boats on fire when they saw an American ship at night. Well think about this – this meant that they were willing to get picked up by this American ship or die. Going back to Vietnam was not an option,” Maltese said.
Questions were opened up to the students and faculty in the dining room. Student Eric Honomichl expressed concerns about America accepting refugees.
“How do we know these aren’t terrorists that we’re harboring? And if we look at our current economic status right now we really haven’t taken care of any of our veterans, any of our homeless that are on the streets. What makes us think that we can take care of more homeless or displaced people,” Honomichl said.
“They get more benefits than someone coming home from the military, they get free food, housed, clothing.”
Honomichl said he was a veteran who served in Afghanistan and received little help when he left the service.
“They say here, here you go, live your life. There’s no one to help me, no one to help me get on my feet to get going.
“You have homeless veterans on the streets … homeless people that are milling around, when they could be contributing and taking those jobs up.”