Rebecca Smyth is a Global Justice Academy Student Ambassador for 2015-16. In this post, Rebecca reflects on the second in our series of Rapid Response Roundtables on the current refugee crisis. Rebecca will also report from the final roundtable, ‘What Can Scotland Do?’.
This panel discussion was a follow-on event from the first panel discussion held at the beginning of October on the roots of the current Syrian crisis. The panel was comprised of Professor Christina Boswell and Dr Lucy Lowe from the School of Social and Political Science; campaigner Amal Azzudin of the Mental Health Foundation; and Jamie Kerr, Partner at Thorntons Solicitors specialising in Immigration Law. It was chaired by Dr Mathias Thaler.
“The international refugee regime is spectacularly not fit for purpose”
Drawing upon her academic research and own experience working with the UNHCR in the mid-1990s, Professor Boswell demonstrated the ways in which the origins of the current global refugee regime have combined with EU policy to create an unsustainable system for dealing with the current refugee crisis.
As a contemporary and prominent topic, a panel event discussing the roots of the Syria crisis was always going to be well attended. In front of a packed lecture theatre, on October 6th 2015, Dr. Thomas Pierret, Dr. Manhal Alnasser, and Arek Dakessian presented their points of view on the causes and changing shapes of the crisis in Syria since the popular uprising in 2011, chaired by Dr Sarah Jane Cooper Knock. Each speaker brought their experiences as academics, practitioners and personal stories to the event.
Internal issues, not proxy war
Thomas began the discussion by raising the two prominent explanations for conflict in Syria: the first, which he subscribes to, that it was a domestic problem which became internationalised; and the second, that it was a proxy war from the outset. He argued that the conflict started with the popular uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s authoritarian regime, in which the power lies in family patronage networks rather than institutions. The immediately repressive state response, sectarian-social divides between police and protestors, and subsequent defections, all led to the formation of a crowdfunded armed movement against Assad, which was a well-established force before international actors became involved. Finally, he claimed that the regime is now compensating for its lack of manpower with increased firepower, and that this has led to mass displacement through the total destruction of rebel-held areas, especially cities.
On 26-27 February 2015, the Post-Conflict Research Center from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, visited the University of Edinburgh to present its award-winning “Ordinary Heroes” project. “Ordinary Heroes” won first place in the 2014 UN Alliance of Civilizations and BMW Group Intercultural Innovation Award in a ceremony hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Bali, Indonesia. The Global Justice Academy at the University of Edinburgh sponsored PCRC’s travel to Edinburgh.
Mina Jahić is a widowed octogenarian from Rogatica, in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose husband and two sons lost their lives in the wars that followed the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. She lives by herself in an upper floor of a prefabricated apartment block not far from the capital Sarajevo. A devout Muslim, Mina’s hope for the future of her country lies in the youth, who she believes still have the power to change the ethnocratic system that has blocked any attempts for reconciliation and reform since the end of the war in 1995. What Mina’s wartime experiences separate her from her neighbours, however, are the risks she took to save a stranger escaping his execution. Mina is an ordinary hero.
Ferid Spahić, a gas station attendant in Ilijaš, a small town to the northwest of Sarajevo, was in his mid-twenties when the first shots were fired in Bosnia by Serb paramilitary forces bent on “cleansing the land” for a “Greater Serbia” under the guise of preserving Communist Yugoslavia from dissolution. A Bosniak Muslim, too, he and his neighbours were targets of ethnonationalist destruction that quickly engulfed Bosnia’s three main ethnic groups – Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks. One day in June 1992, a Serb man from his village, whom he had seen as a trusted neighbour, rounded the local Bosniak men into buses, telling them as they were separated from their wives and children that they would be transferred to Skopje, Macedonia, and later reunited with their families.
The University of Edinburgh’s Global Academies have announced their Autumn 2014 Ebola Series in response to the current global crisis. In this short post, Dr Harriet Cornell from the Global Justice Academy reflects on how the global response to Ebola has unfolded in the press, and criticisms that have been voiced by experts in the field.