VANCOUVER — In separate, rousing talks Wednesday night, two refugee activists told an audience filled with influential scientists and big thinkers that all the strides in technology have done little to enhance our humanity and that the onus was now on them to help solve the refugee crisis.
“I believe the biggest question in the 21st century concerns our duty to strangers,” said David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee. “The world is more connected than ever before, yet the great danger is we’re consumed by our divisions — and there’s no better test of that than how we treat refugees.”
Speaking on the third night of the international TED conference here, Miliband told the hundreds of participants in the room that the refugee crisis is manageable, even solvable, if they do their part. Refugees need four things for a better life, he said: jobs, so they can have agency over their lives; education and social support of their children; cash, so they can feel empowered; and, for the most vulnerable, a new country to call home.
“Now is not the time to be banning refugees — it’s the time to be embracing people who are victims of terror,” Miliband said to overwhelming applause.
It’s no surprise that the scientists and tech innovators who attended the TED event would respond that way. More than 100 tech companies — including Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Uber — signed a brief in court cases challenging President Trump’s proposed travel ban in January.
The room also erupted in applause when Miliband suggested that in addition to hiring refugees, challenging untruths and donating money, listeners could personally extend a hand by voting “for politicians who will put into practice solutions I talked about.”
“It’s a test of our humanity. It’s a test of us in the Western world of who we are and what we stand for. It’s a test of our character,” he said. “It’s revealing of our values. Empathy and altruism are two of the foundations of civilization. Turn that into action, and we live out a basic moral credo. . . . Fail to help, and we show we have no moral compass at all.”
Luma Mufleh, a Muslim born in Jordan who was granted political asylum in the United States because she is gay, shared personal accounts of working with refugees outside Atlanta. Mufleh is the founder of Fugees Family, which she began as a soccer program for refugee children after watching a few kids in an apartment complex playing barefoot with rocks as goals. It has grown into an after-school program and an academy for grades six to 12.
“Their journeys are haunting, but what I get to see every day is hope, resilience, determination, a love of life and an appreciation for being able to rebuild their lives,” she said.
There’s the Syrian mother who cleans hotels and at the end of the day, her feet aching, remarks only on how lucky she feels. But then, there’re still the moments where the politics and hateful rhetoric are re-traumatizing. Mufleh said an Iraqi girl whose father was an interpreter for the U.S. military cried to her asking why people hated Muslims and refugees and called her a “terrorist” on the soccer field.
“We have seen advancements in every aspect of our lives,” Mufleh said, “except our humanity.”
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