Amnesty International hosts events to raise awareness for refugees

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Members of the College's chapter of Amnesty International pictured lobbying for the Refugee Protection Act in November 2016. This week, the group will host a series of events as part of their Rise for Refugees campaign. COURTESY PHOTO / SHANNON LEWIS

In an effort to raise awareness of refugees, the College of William and Mary’s chapter of Amnesty International is putting on a weeklong program entitled “Rise for Refugees.” The program features a series of events along with a poster series intended to educate the College community regarding the plight of refugees and give it the opportunity to contribute in a positive way. 

“Rise for Refugees” kicked off April 9 with a film screening of “Human Flow,” a documentary that highlights the extent and impact of the refugee crisis by following the plight of refugees from 23 different countries over the course of a year. The following day, the organization placed balloons throughout campus featuring images and stories from Humans of New York photo blogger Brandon Stanton’s photo series on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh. 

Amnesty International co-presidents Hailey Ulrich ’20 and Shannon Lewis ’20 are hoping to draw attention to the individuals that are affected by the refugee crisis with the organization’s balloon campaign. 

“We’re highlighting some of those personal stories to add a name and a face to the statistics that we’re also throwing out,” Lewis said. 

Amnesty International will continue its refugee awareness campaign Wednesday, April 11 by tabling, when it will both sell refugee awareness merchandise and provide students with information regarding the refugee crisis. All proceeds collected will be donated to the International Rescue Committee, a charity organization that seeks to provide global humanitarian aid to those displaced by conflict and disaster. Amnesty International hopes to impact the local refugee community by donating its fundraising profits specifically to the International Rescue Committee’s Richmond location.

“Having [the proceeds] going to a place so close to home [shows that] we know that there’s refugees in Virginia [and that] it’s not just a far away place where it’s happening,” Ulrich said.

In addition, the organization will be displaying the poster series “Walk a Campus in My Shoes” on the Sunken Garden April 11 and 12. Developed by Kennesaw State University freshman Matthew Tikhonovsky and his sister, the poster series includes seven different posters aimed at educating college students about the refugee crisis and encouraging them to become involved. The College is one of 17 universities across the country that has featured Tikhonovsky’s poster series.

“We really believe that raising awareness is important, but at the same time we think that raising awareness could be futile if we do not also mobilize students to get involved,” Tikhonovsky said. 

The first posters in the series walk students through the entirety of refugees’ journeys, beginning with their initial displacement and ending with their experiences in the United States. The series ends with a final poster suggesting ways in which students can get involved in refugee aid by promoting involvement in Paper Airplanes, an organization that provides tutoring services to refugee children via Skype, and encouraging them to sign the United Nation’s #WithRefugees Campaign.

“We really believe that raising awareness is important, but at the same time we think that raising awareness could be futile if we do not also mobilize students to get involved,” Tikhonovsky said. 

The posters will also be featured at “Jamnesty,” a musical event included in the “Rise for Refugees” campaign. Amnesty International teamed up with the College’s Human Engagement, Awareness and Response to Trafficking chapter to host the event, recognizing its similar focus, as many refugees are also victims of human trafficking. 

“Jamnesty” will take place April 12 in Lodge 1 and feature live music, dancing, local artists and discussion of different refugee and human trafficking cases. 

At the event, students will also be given the opportunity to sign petitions and write letters to their local representatives as part of Amnesty International’s “Write for Rights” initiative. The organization is hopeful that this initiative will exact positive change in the handling of the refugee crisis. 

“A lot of people think [letter writing and petition signing] doesn’t work, but a lot of Amnesty’s initiatives that actually cause change [are] mass letter writing to generals, and presidents and prime ministers,” Ulrich said.

The “Rise for Refugees” campaign, spearheaded by the organization’s refugee committee heads Andrew Bookbinder ’19 and Yasmin Abusaif ’19, hopes to raise awareness of a wide range of refugee crises. 

“In the past, we’ve focused a lot on the Syrian refugee crisis, which is ongoing and incredibly serious, but this time we’re really trying to expand and focus on a lot of the different refugee crises that are going on around the world that aren’t talked about as much,” Lewis said. “The Rohingya crisis in particular — just pretty much anyone fleeing conflict and raise awareness that it’s not just happening to one specific group.”

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