Thursday, July 27, 2017

Economic Migrants vs. Refugees: Drawing the Line?
Written by: Ashrita Rau
Program Intern, World Affairs Council of Atlanta
Student, Georgia State University
Published: 7/27/2017
            More than five million people have fled the war in Syria since it began in 2011, making it one of the worst refugee crises in history[1]. Despite the fact that large numbers of refugees flee to surrounding countries—including Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan—European countries remain the most outspoken critics of accepting refugees.
       On July 12th, French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech discussing the refugee crisis and the obligations of France in the face of so many asylum applications. Macron stressed that “Les réfugiés politiques et migrants économiques n’a rien à voir”, meaning that political refugees and economic migrants have nothing to do with each other[2].  His goal was to gain support for refugees. In order to do so, he attempted to convince the general public that refugees, unlike economic migrants, were people who had a right to receive French citizenship and the protection of the French government.
File:20151030 Syrians and Iraq refugees arrive at Skala Sykamias Lesvos Greece 2.jpg
Refugees from Syria and Iraq
Source: Wikimedia 
            A refugee, according to the 1951 definition by the UN Convention, is someone who has fled their country of residence because of a well-founded fear of death or imprisonment should they remain[3]. They have to prove that they face persecution based on race, religion, nationality, or membership of a particular social group, and they are unwilling or unable to seek the protection of their country or to return to their country. If asylum applicants can prove that they meet all five of these criteria, they can be granted refugee status.
            Economic migrants, unlike refugees, are not seen as people who have been forced to flee their country. Rather, public opinion generally tends to condemn economic migrants as people who are too lazy to stay in their own country but rather choose to cross the borders for ‘get rich quick’ schemes. In France, the migrants from North Africa are seen as those who illegally made their way to Europe and should be sent back home immediately. In the United States, migrants who manage to make their way into Texas from Central or South America are condemned as illegal immigrants and face deportation. The issue remains a prominent concern in the minds of United States residents, with around 60% of people polled in a PEW research study stating that they worry a “great deal” or a “fair amount” about illegal immigration[4].
            The distinction between economic migrants and refugees is important politically. A refugee can receive rights and protection that economic migrants will not be granted. However, this clear distinction is too simplistic of an approach. It ignores the fact that economic migrants may migrate because of safety concerns linked to poverty. For example, a 2014 New York Times article by Sonia Nazario discusses how children who flee South and Central American countries in order to migrate to the United States do so in an attempt to avoid the alternative—a life of drug and gang violence[5].
            It’s also unfair to assume that violence is a necessary factor for migration. Some of the people who migrate from poorer countries do so not because of violence, but because economic conditions are so terrible in their home countries that they are unable to survive. Despite that, migrants who move for economic reasons are generally seen as unworthy of gaining citizenship in the countries that they move to.
            Warsan Shire, a British-Somali poet, wrote that “No one puts their children on a boat unless the water is safer than the land”[6]. Perhaps when looking at economic migrants who take great risks, whether by boat or on foot, to reach other countries, we should remember that all humans have a right to safety and security, no matter whether or not they fit into the narrow definition by which the UN defines refugees.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Now or Never: A Comfort Zone Abandoned

Written by: Franzene Minott
Program Intern, World Affairs Council of Atlanta
Student, Georgia State University
Published: 7/26/2017

There should come a time when a person realizes that there’s more to life than what they’re accustomed to and that – despite one’s seemingly popular belief – there is actually no right way to perceive the world. For some, this altered perspective occurs after moving away for college or after relocating to a new city. But then there are others (like myself) whose upbringing immediately connected them to life beyond the domestic borders of which they were raised.
Born a first-generation American to Jamaican immigrants, my childhood was centered on cultural appreciation. Beyond the years spent in the Caribbean, testimonies of my family’s travel during my father’s military service painted my youth. In retrospect, I believe these recollections fueled my own desire for exploration. From Saudi Arabia to Germany, not being able to visit these fascinating places only increased my curiosity of the surrounding world. At eleven years old, the 2007 People to People World Leadership Forum in Washington D.C marked my emergence into the international arena. From there, I was admitted into my high school’s specialized International Studies magnet program concentrating in comparative government, world history, and human geography. Now, with just one more year left in undergrad, I knew it was time for the next step. And what’s the best way to abandon your comfort zone and fully immerse yourself into a new culture? Studying abroad!
After seven years of taking Spanish language courses, naturally, I chose to live in the French town of Lille for four months. Because if you’re going to do something radical, it’s now or never, right?

But despite my initial trepidation about living in a place with an obvious language barrier, I have never been more excited to challenge my own independence and capabilities in such a dynamic country.

While my education thus far has analyzed the various dimensions of American government, it has limited my knowledge on the complexities of the European Union. We are undoubtedly living in unprecedented times and better comprehension of our allies’ political platforms is imperative for my own professional development.

As a psychology and political science minor, I realize each day how the two interrelate in world affairs. As I pursue a career in international relations, understanding the human condition becomes a vital tool when assessing the complexities and repercussions of man-made policy.
At its core, a successful social exchange requires mutual understanding (yes, even among disagreeing parties). During my 13 weeks with the World Affairs Council of Atlanta, I was able to examine today’s complex global issues in not only a nonpartisan forum, but among a diverse congregation. Beyond facilitating the ideal environment for the examination of worldly affairs, I was presented with an invaluable introduction into Atlanta’s international corporate community.

As I emerge as a global citizen, I understand that reaching my full potential requires emancipating myself from a one-tract mind. With a sense of refined purpose and confidence achieved through this internship, I have never felt more prepared for life’s newest ventures abroad.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Can We Afford to Be 'America First'?

Written by: Roma Parikh
Program Intern, World Affairs Council of Atlanta
Student, University of Georgia
Published: 7/25/2017
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States of America has been the unequivocal world leader. As a nation, rightly so, we have pursued policies that put America first for even longer. However, the consequences (intended or otherwise) of those policies on other nations and their citizens was never taken into consideration, never needed to be taken into consideration. Perhaps one of the best examples of how ‘America First’ policies have had disastrous effects on other countries and America itself is the trade war propagated by protectionist policies and the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff in the 1930s. What Congressmen in their day felt were policies meant to help policies to help Americans, the quickly globalizing nature of the world showed how much they could hurt.

So, yes, I want American citizens to thrive. I want my mom’s small business, a daycare center in Dallas, GA, to be successful.  I want to reduce how many American lives that are lost in war, in conflict, and in protecting my freedom. But do America first policies really deliver on what they promise?

 From debates ranging from whether or not the $20 billion spent annually on agricultural subsidies is a worthwhile investment to whether or not the drone program (expanded and championed by the Obama administration) is the most cost-effective and successful method, the answer seems to be: America first policies aren’t quite cutting it. 

During the Great Depression, agricultural subsidies were vital to our nation’s food security; drone technology did not even exist then. As times change, the world becomes global, and technology evolves, so should America first policies. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau on foreign trade reflects one aspect of this. Canada is our top trading partner clocking in 266 million in exports and 277 million in imports in 2016 alone. Likewise, Mexico in a close second was 229 million in exports and 292 million in imports. The U.S. economy does not exist without trade between us and Canada and Mexico. 

President Trump announced negotiations on NAFTA – an attempt to rewrite the trade agreement to favor American businesses, such as the auto industry, which was hard-hit by the outdated and unfair terms of NAFTA. While the negotiations may level the playing field and update this important free trade agreement in light of technological changes, the heart of this policy is to put America first by promoting protectionist policies at the expense of U.S consumers and the economy: a decrease in quality of the produce and products we have come to expect while the cost of these items soars drastically. 

While economics and trade relations are complex subjects that shouldn’t and often can’t be reduced to this policy is good and that one is bad, the scenario with NAFTA is just one instance of how America first policies and those who champion them fail to envision the whole picture and therefore do not anticipate the damage it can cause. For too long, America first policies have been America only policies – with a mentality of empathy and investment, we lay seeds to reap the benefits when harvest comes.

            So, I ask again, can we afford to be ‘America First’?  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Geographic Information Systems: Mapping Tomorrow's Future

Written By: John Teems
Program Intern, World Affairs Council of Atlanta
Published: 7/20/2017
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is described by Esri, one of the world’s premier GIS providers, as a system that “lets us visualize, question, analyze, and interpret data to understand relationships, patterns, and trends.” Often, this involves the creation or manipulation of maps by collecting geographic data, such as longitude, latitude, and elevation, and non-geographic data, which could be anything from the type of disease a person has to the average GDP per capita in an area. Essentially, GIS is a tool used to manipulate, manage, and present geospatial data on a map. GIS is mostly utilized for city planning, natural resource development and conservation, and large-scale building projects. However, based on personal experience, it seems to be underutilized in day-to-day work in international development organizations. Here, I believe maps have the potential to enhance work in areas such as fundraising, project planning, and project evaluation.

When you examine many leading university programs, or look at job descriptions, you may notice a common theme: a gap exists between international development and GIS. After working and studying with countless development professionals, and attending meetups with members of the GIS community, I have rarely found someone possessing both skills. GIS academic programs rarely include development theory, and vice versa. On the non-profit side, most project workers have rarely, if ever, used GIS tools. Each side is specialized in its respective field, yet there’s the potential to increase productivity and impact through integration.

At a recent social event, I spoke with a GIS professional in Atlanta about his current project which maps local community gardens, including information on which produce is being grown at which garden. However, the idea stopped there. When I asked who this project is trying to reach and what methods he intends to use to reach this audience, I was met with silence. He admitted he hadn’t thought about this and planned on making the maps available only online, reaching a limited audience. I advised him to think about different mediums of communication in order to reach the Atlantans most in need of a community garden. Only after collaboration between both of us could this project not only be complete, but useful.

At a recent internship, I helped produce a report on trade in Asia. As with many reports, the purpose was to create knowledge and prove a point. Since the report contained hundreds of statistics on trade in different countries and sectors, the reader could easily get lost with the numbers alone. Explaining these facts and findings would require much more writing, but a map could do so instantly. Similarly, fundraising efforts would be more efficient if backed by simple maps correlating money raised by which donors and in what regions. Event planning becomes more effective when a map can show a location central to all attendees. Even something like a grant proposal is made more persuasive to the reader when a map is used to show the need for a specific program in a particular area, rather than the proposition merely being communicated through thousands of words. This isn’t a call for GIS tools to replace traditional methods of development work. This is merely a call to add something more to international development professional’s repertoire.