Migration Summit 2023 advances global dialogue on migration

Migration Summit 2023 advances global dialogue on migration

MIT Open Learning

Building community to co-create pathways for learning, livelihood, and dignity

Participants from the Migration Summit-sponsored event “Education Pathways for Refugees and Migrants” in Okoja, Nigeria.

By Camila Massa

An early draft of this article was written with the assistance of the AI programs Fireflies and ChatGPT.

The Migration Summit, hosted by the MIT Jameel World Education Lab’s MIT Refugee Action Hub (ReACT), Na’amal and Karam Foundation, addresses the systemic challenges and opportunities faced by refugee and migrant communities. Throughout the month of April, the summit — now in its second year — drew participation from more than 2,400 individuals hailing from 120 countries around the theme “Co-creating Pathways for Learning, Livelihood, and Dignity.”

With 220 speakers engaging across 80 virtual sessions and in-person events in locations around the world, the Migration Summit forged connections between diverse communities of displaced learners, universities, corporations, social enterprises, foundations, researchers, and others. Each session explored some aspect of the unfolding global migration crisis. A rich mix of voices and experiences helped every participant to better understand both shared and unique experiences, needs, and opportunities. The summit built on these insights through numerous threaded conversations about viable solutions. In the end, thousands joined a collective journey towards discovering sustainable solutions to challenges in higher education, workforce development, digital livelihoods, evidence, and research.

The power of human connection

Through storytelling panels and creative arts showcases, the summit invited participants to share their own experiences with displacement, highlighting the transformative potential of human connection to inspire hope and support for those facing adversity. The opening session was a keynote by Omar Alshogre, a Syrian refugee and human rights advocate who currently serves as the Director of Detainees Affairs for the Syrian Emergency Task Force and spokesperson for Atrocities Tracker.

Alshogre’s speech took attendees on an emotional journey focused on three main points: education, trauma, and the uplifting power of storytelling. “When I share my trauma with the world, it feels it’s not mine anymore,” Alshogre said with a beaming smile, reflecting on the Swedish people who welcomed him into their family with a heartfelt embrace and helped ease his emotional burden. “They made me proud of being Syrian. They made me proud of being a refugee instead of shaming me and looking down at me for being a refugee, and that was a breaking point…They made me love my story, despite the painful parts of it.”

These sessions also challenged the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding displaced and migrant populations, such as reclaiming “refugee” from past pejorative connotations and appreciating migrants as people who enhance productivity, sociocultural, and economic development in communities. “I have been able to build resilience and give it a smile when somebody calls me a refugee,” said Fiston Muganda, a Congolese Refugee living in Uganda and now working as Project Manager at Open Portal Network, in the Experiences with Displacement panel. I don’t want to believe in the stereotypes or the scenarios that refugees aren’t really people that are worth anything.”

Education as a catalyst for transformation

For those forced to flee their homes due to conflict, persecution, or other challenging circumstances, education becomes a lifeline — a means to rebuild their lives, empower themselves, and secure a better future. Alnarjes Harba, Logistics Co-Lead for the Migration Summit Organizing Committee, said, “I always see that education is a weapon for peace. This is the only weapon that young people have in order to defeat their traumatic experience, their migration experience, and to also contribute to the reconstruction of their countries in the future.”

Higher education, bridging opportunities, fostering innovation and building competency were some of the various topics broached by Migration Summit sessions, which included speakers from organizations in the humanitarian sector like Migration Jam, Thaki and Syrian Youth Empowerment Initiative (SYE), as well as universities including University of Nairobi and Villanova University and members of the MIT community including MIT Systems Awareness Lab and D-Lab. International aid organizations such as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Organization For Migration (IOM) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) were also present.

Throughout the summit, session discussions called for mindset change, political will, and systemic change to create an inclusive environment that recognizes the contributions of refugees and supports their self-reliance. Panelists highlighted the special role that higher education could play. Universities, they argued, could actively engage in policy advocacy at the systemic level in order to dismantle legal and structural barriers that impede access to education.

Sessions surfaced core challenges along with ideas for solutions:

  • The strain on existing infrastructure, such as healthcare and housing, in countries where people apply for asylum.
  • Structural barriers, including cost and opportunity, can be resolved through initiatives such as scholarships and coordinated efforts with governmental and nongovernmental entities.
  • Academic gaps, which can be overcome by providing mentoring, tutoring, advising, and social-cultural activities to support the retention of refugee students.
  • Establishing welcoming policies within universities that align with country policies and reducing bureaucratic obstacles imposed on refugee populations.

Bringing the summit to refugee communities globally

The summit provided a platform for organizations to share their experiences and build collaborative efforts and partnerships, maximizing the impact of initiatives aimed at supporting displaced communities. Virtual networking sessions and sponsored events like hackathons and film festivals were held across the globe, from Nigeria to Mexico to Turkey.

Kakuma Art, Fashion and Creative Day Forum” was one such event hosted in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. The camp hosts more than 200,000 refugees and asylum seekers from neighboring countries in Africa. Icoke Ventures, a social enterprise which helps market refugee products through social media tools and networking platforms, together with SoundForLife, Kilbri and ADYI, organized a one-day forum to welcome refugee creatives to exhibit and expose their talents to the outside market. The event included a fashion show, music performances and keynote speeches, looking to create opportunities for dialogue about how displaced communities can be best supported to pursue dignified livelihoods.

These sponsored sessions also served as pivotal platforms for intimate engagement and meaningful exchanges, facilitating connections among diverse stakeholders within the realm of migration.

Participants from the Migration Summit-sponsored event in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya.

Building partnerships and mobilizing for change

By bringing together experts, practitioners, and advocates from around the world, the summit fostered a truly global perspective on the multifaceted challenges and opportunities surrounding migration. These insights underscored the imperative for holistic and multidimensional approaches to effectively address the needs of these populations.

A comprehensive public report encapsulating key findings and recommendations from the summit was published on World Refugee Day, June 20, 2023. To delve deeper into the inspiring discussions and insights from the Migration Summit, we invite you to explore our YouTube Playlist and immerse in the knowledge and perspectives shared by experts, advocates, and individuals with lived experiences.

What Alshogre said about his own experiences applies to many refugees’ stories: “I included the terrible details, but I ended on a good note because I want to give people hope. The people of Syria are hopeful people. If you invest in them, they will be working hard to make sure this investment does not go for nothing.”

Migration Summit 2023 advances global dialogue on migration was originally published in MIT Open Learning on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


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