University of Iowa

U.N. official speaks for refugees at UI lecture

September 23rd, 2016
Melissa Fleming discusses the difficulties and dangers that refugees at The Old Capitol Senate Chamber on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. Melissa Fleming travels the world and helps organization raise awareness for refugees. (The Daily Iowan/Anthony Vazquez)

Melissa Fleming discusses the difficulties and dangers that refugees at The Old Capitol Senate Chamber on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. Melissa Fleming travels the world and helps organization raise awareness for refugees. (The Daily Iowan/Anthony Vazquez)

By Elianna Novitch, The Daily Iowan

In the Old Capitol Senate Chamber on Thursday night, Melissa Fleming, the head of communications for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, described the dire situation facing most of the world’s refugees.

Fleming addressed a diverse audience of Iowa City community members who had gathered to hear about the topic of refugees and how to help them rebuild their world.

“This is obviously an issue that is all too relevant today and important to a wide variety of people,” said Sarah Tortora, the head of the University of Iowa Lecture Committee.

Fleming was invited to speak at the UI as a part of the 2016 Lecture Series.

“We had a very large turnout,” Lecture Committee member Reem Khodor said. “It just goes to show that there is so much interest and so much dedication to this really deserving issue and discussion. I was thrilled with the high-quality discussion and real empathy that you could feel in the room.”

This was Fleming’s first visit to Iowa. She usually works internationally, “[telling] the stories of refugees.”

Fleming started the lecture off with the story of a Syrian refugee named Doaa, describing the unimaginable situations that Doaa survived as she fled her war-torn home.

“I thought it was very good to get to hear Doaa’s story to start it off,” UI freshmen Hayden Means said. “Her story is just something we can’t even imagine here. It really gave an insight to what being a refugee is like.”

Fleming interspersed Doaa’s story with startling statics about how many refugees there are in the world.

“We are in the biggest refugee crisis in our time,” she told the crowd. “There are over 65 million people in the world today who are forcibly displaced. Every minute, 24 new people are forcibly displaced from their home. This crisis is unprecedented for our time.”

Some of the other major topics that Fleming brought up in the lecture included the fear-mongering going on in the current election regarding the refugee crisis and how harmful that kind of language can be to progress that could be made.

“On behalf of Doaa, I hope that we can make this divide between compassion and fear one in which more compassion wins over. Refugees are potentially the future peace builders,” Fleming said. “They are the future architects and engineers, teachers and professors, politicians and doctors who, if given the opportunity, could bring about peace.”

Following the lecture, a question-and-answer session took place to allow audience members the chance to directly address questions to Fleming.

“It was really interesting to get to hear an upper-level perspective from someone as noteworthy as her who is so invested in the refugee issue,” UI sophomore Liana Suleiman said.

Fleming’s lecture was just one of many others that will come to campus this fall. The Lecture Committee works to bring important people to campus who can lead discussions on issues people aren’t normally exposed to.

“People come to college campuses to get their degrees, but more than that, they come because they need to learn about issues in the world,” Khodor said. “It would be a shame for you to come to a school like Iowa and not have your view widened by the time you leave. That’s specifically the role of the Lecture Committee: to provide students with stimulating, educational events that cause them to walk away thinking ‘Oh, there is something else I didn’t know about.’ ”

Keywords 
Author