JUHAN Conference at Holy Cross Dives Into Complexities of Refugee Crises

“You must do something. Doing nothing is not a choice,” humanitarian scholar Michael Barnett from George Washington University said at the fifth biennial Jesuit Universities Humanitarian Action Network (JUHAN) Conference. The conference, titled “Principles in Crisis: Refugees and Responsibility,” was held at the College of the Holy Cross.

While the state of humanitarianism and the challenges faced by those seeking and offering relief are unlikely to change, Barnett explained, the “humanitarian imperative” — to do, to help — continues to drive efforts forward.

The three-day conference brought together students, scholars and practitioners interested in exploring how to most effectively and ethically respond to the urgent needs of refugees and immigrants, and the complexities facing humanitarian relief. Keynote addresses, panel discussions, and break-out sessions offered a range of perspectives, addressing topics such as the realities of life in refugee camps, refugee resettlement and the politics of humanitarian language.

This exploration also took a more hands-on approach through community site visits and modeling simulations. Participants were invited to take part in the “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” simulation to experience, even if only vicarious and for a few moments, the frustrations, disappointments and hopes that refugees around the world face.

“Very often our perception of refugees is that they are a separate people who live far away and have little bearing on our own daily lives,” says Francois Venne ’19, who presented at the conference about his experience meeting local refugee artisans at Refugee Artisans of Worcester (RAW) through an art history class. “We often neglect to notice that they live in our very own communities.”

Participants, who came from all over the country, spent one afternoon of the conference visiting community partners directly working to support refugees, immigrants and those seeking asylum in Worcester, which resettles the most refugees in all of Massachusetts. Sites included RAW, Family Health Center of Worcester, Ascentria Care Alliance, and Worcester Alliance for Refugee Ministry.

From considering the state of humanitarianism on a macro level to experiencing day-to-day work of local refugee relief on a micro level, the conference presented participants with a dynamic depiction of an urgent topic.

“The Ignatian principle,” said Charlie MacCormack, former president and CEO of Save the Children, during a panel discussion, "of helping our brothers and sisters, whoever and wherever they might be — that is our duty.”

The conference was organized by the Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning, in partnership with Holy Cross’ Peace and Conflict Studies and the greater JUHAN network.