What is driving the global refugee crisis? Is the United States doing enough? Is Yale?
The current refugee crisis is a humanitarian and public health emergency of enormous proportions. The human suffering is immense and it cannot be ignored or made to go away. There were an estimated 65.3 million people forcibly displaced in 2015, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the most since World War II. A total of 3.2 million were seeking asylum, and 21.3 million were escaping political violence. More than 50 percent came from Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. The other nearly 41 million were internally displaced populations, people forced from their homes but still living in their native countries.
Political violence is one of the main drivers of forced displacement, but climate change is another contributing factor, which may become a bigger cause in the future. Historically, the United States has admitted more refugees than most other countries under UNHCR’s resettlement program. Under President Obama, we had committed to accepting 110,000 refugees in 2017, but President Donald Trump wants to reduce this number to no more than 50,000 (Trump’s orders were blocked by federal judges and have not been implemented yet). The United States has the resources and the capacity to significantly increase the number of refugees it admits as well as support initiatives to help refugees in countries like Lebanon, which has accepted more than 1.2 million Syrian refugees and is overwhelmed.
I am pleased with Yale’s response to the Syrian tragedy, which includes ongoing efforts to help medical students there continue their education. But much more can be done. Yale should further increase its scholarship on the crisis, its drivers, public health consequences and prevention strategies. The university should also assist Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS), the New Haven-based refugee resettlement program, with research.
I believe that public health professionals have a special role to play in addressing the refugee crisis, and I see every day the commitment and passion that are needed to do this at the Yale School of Public Health and the university.
Kaveh Khoshnood, M.P.H. ’89, Ph.D. ’95, is an associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health. He is currently working with colleagues at Yale and other institutions to help Syrian medical students continue their education amidst a civil war in that country. Khoshnood came to the United States in the 1980s as a young man, leaving his native Iran during a war with neighboring Iraq.