We Need to Change How we Think About Refugees and Migration

Gissou Nia
Source: CNS/EPA

Scott Jacobsen speaks to Gissou Nia about migrants, refugees, the international community, climate change, water scarcity, and more.

Gissou Nia
Ms Gissou Nia is the Board Chair of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center and the Strategy Director of Purpose.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Migrant and refugee issues are continually arising along with concerns from the international community relating to these issues. Increasingly, they reveal some problems as well. What are the problems being faced at present by migrants and refugees around the world?
Gissou Nia: I do not mean to be US-centric with this. But the thing on the centre of my mind is a decision issued by the Trump Administration in late September on the refugee admissions cap. In the US, ever since President Reagan, there has been a refugee cap set for each fiscal year, usually announced in September.
It is rubber stamped by the Congress. It is approved. But there is not much deviation from what the administration decides. That sets a limit on the number of refugees who are allowed to settle in the US each year.
For the past year, the decision announced in December 2016 that dictated how many people can come into the US in 2018; that was already at a historic low. It had been set at 45,000 individuals. You could have to compare that to the prior numbers, which were more than twice that.
Now, there was a recent decision only to permit no more than 30,000 people to enter the US; in fact, it has been reduced by 15,000, which makes it the lowest ever. I think there is a sense that what the Trump Administration would ideally want is to reduce the number to 0.
Even from the number of folks who would be permitted into the country in 2018, which was 45,000, we haven’t reached that number in terms of actual people settled. With only a few weeks remaining in the fiscal year – the Administration, they only admitted only 20,000 refugees, so not even half of the number that it said that it would take into the country.
That is what is front of mind for me. As we reduce the number of people who are allowed to come in through the formalised resettlement process, we are denying people from war-torn countries. People who have been persecuted due to their lifestyle, beliefs, and professions, or individuals who have been forced to leave their country as staying posed serious concerns for their life.
Gissou Nia
“As we reduce the number of people who are allowed to come in through the formalised resettlement process, we are denying people from war-torn countries.” Source: VOA News
We are saying these people cannot legally come to this country. It leads to what is going on at the southern border. Many people are seeking protection. They are allowed under international law to seek protection from the violence they are fleeing from.
The narrative being presented is that people are coming here ‘illegally.’ That they are lawbreakers or doing things that are not allowed. Truly, a lot of these people who are coming are coming to seek protection from violent regimes in their home country.
That is what they are allowed to do under asylum laws. It is something the US has adhered to. Now, we are also seeking to reduce the number of refugees who can come to this country. That is really in front of mind for me.
As our political leaders demonstrate a lack of leadership and stoke the flames of xenophobia and contribute to that with othering rhetoric, we are not really on a track to be able to welcome people and successfully integrate and assimilate people who are truly seeking refuge.
We will need to be focused on what solutions are, because nobody, right now, can say it is a problem that doesn’t concern them. It touches all of us. So, we have to be really mindful of it.
Those who we have had a decades-long history of welcoming. That is a disturbing turn of events. I find in this country. It is something we see across the world as we see countries closing borders and becoming hesitant to accept newcomers.
I am concerned that it is becoming entrenched along political lines. That is, it is not seen as a human or a humanitarian issue. That is of great concern to me. There are the UN Global Compacts of Refugees and Migration.
That should be formally adopted in December if I am not mistaken. That is going to be the first time that there is ever a global agreement on migration. Of course, there have been global agreements on refugees but not on migration.
We have a lack of political will from the Trump Administration withdrawing from the process. I think it is vital that other countries and the international community continue to invest in that process and really come to some logical solutions on how to deal with what is going to be an ever-increasing flow of people – leaving their origin countries.
People are also forced to leave their countries of origin due to climate change. This is going to continue unless we are in a place to reach the political solutions and the solutions needed for climate change to prevent natural disasters and different people from having to leave their different countries due to lack of water.
We will need to be focused on what solutions are, because nobody, right now, can say it is a problem that doesn’t concern them. It touches all of us. So, we have to be really mindful of it. 
Jacobsen: With climate change worsening, are the projects such that there will be more refugees and migrants around the world as climate change becomes worse, e.g., as the problem of water scarcity worsens due to climate change, as you mentioned in the response?
Nia: Yes, of course, it is hard to predict the future. But, at the moment, we are on track to have some serious water shortages because that will lead to different people leaving and seeking quite literally greener pastures, because they will be dealing with incredible challenges at home. Already, we see this in Iran with some severe water shortages. It is causing draught and impacting subsistence farmers. We will see that pattern globally.
Of course, there is evidence to show the civil unrest in Syria and the initial protests were stoked by drought and by farmers being very unhappy with certain circumstances. I think there is evidence of that globally.
We see a negative trend when it comes to that. I do not see that resolving anytime soon; unless there are serious global solutions being proposed to counter it.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Gissou.


About Scott Jacobsen 317 Articles
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere.