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Expert insight into refugees' plight: Refugee Week

14 June 2019
University of Sydney researchers weigh in on the trials of today's refugees
Australia's National Refugee Week seeks to celebrate the contributions refugees make to our society while exploring the challenges many continue to confront.

The theme of this year’s National Refugee Week, coordinated by the Refugee Council of Australia, is ‘share a meal and a story’. 

Before people begin to break bread and exchange life experiences, University of Sydney academics have described some of the biggest challenges refugees face. 

A philosophical take

Dr Luara Ferracioli draws a link between the dangers refugees experience, and political policies that target them. 

“The reason why refugees are often exposed to extremely perilous journeys and conditions is a direct result of the fact that recipient states will try and minimise their refugee intake to the greatest extent possible,” the lecturer in Political Philosophy said. 

“There is very little appetite for a generous refugee intake on the part of citizens in most political communities, despite the strong moral claim that refugees have for inclusion in a recipient state.”

She thinks the discipline of philosophy is uniquely suited to address this issue, as it can answer questions like ‘who counts as a refugee?’, and ‘why and how should states help them?’

Engineering solutions

On the other hand, Dr Petr Matous takes a practical approach to contemporary refugee difficulties. As a civil engineer who specialises in humanitarian engineering, he seeks to emphasise the role construction can play in this global issue. By working with social scientists, he believes amenities like shelter and access to clean drinking water can be re-designed for maximum efficiency and output. 

“The engineering solutions that can improve lives of refugees are not rocket science, however, the social problems they are facing and the reasons why they might not have access to safe drinking water are much more complex,” he added.

Hear the voiceless

Dr Omid Tofighian, meanwhile, wants there to be more refugees in the border politics conversation. The English translator of Kurdish refugee Behrouz Boochani’s lauded book, No Friend But The Mountain, and an Honorary Research Associate in the University’s philosophy department, Dr Tofighian stated that refugees’ voices are largely dismissed by those with power – including the media, politicians, and even academics. 

“Until the publication of Boochani’s diary leading up to and during the 23-day siege on Manus Island, beginning 31 October 2017, he remained on the fringes of political and scholarly debates,” he said. 

“Connections to authorities, gatekeepers, and networks of production and distribution influence whose perspective and theorising is valued.”

National Refugee Week runs from Sunday 16 June to Saturday 22 June. 

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