Public Symposium: Refugees and Asylum, 27-28 September 2018

The RIAS will host a public symposium “Seeking Refuge: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Refugees and Asylum,” on 27-28 September 2018. Keynote speakers are Udo Janz (former director of UNHCR) and Peter Rose (Smith College, USA).

Throughout Europe and America, the terms “refugee” and “asylum” conjure up news images of crammed vessels washing up from war-torn countries, border patrol crackdowns on unauthorized crossings, sanctuary cities, and fiery debates in the halls of government. Recent public discourse on how to deal with refugee crises has been polarizing, ranging from demands for exclusion based on concerns for national security or public safety on the one hand, to calls for inclusion and the providing of humanitarian assistance on the other. President Trump sparked controversy when he linked refugees with terrorists and signed an executive order temporarily suspending the US Refugee Program in January 2017; Chancellor Merkel sparked controversy when she proposed an EU Refugee Program that would require European member states to accept refugees and share in their resettlement.

Udo Janz and Peter Rose

The current refugee crisis may seem like a new and unprecedented challenge to Europe and America, but modern history is in fact replete with similar episodes—from the slave refugee crisis of the 19th-century Americas, to the massive civilian displacement of both world wars, to the Balkan boat refugees of the 1990s. The ways in which refugees have navigated borders and legal regimes, the functioning of defiant sanctuary cities, the often controversial responses of government and civil society to refugee crises—none of these are new phenomena.

As part of its ongoing commitment to exploring expressions of the Four Freedoms as formulated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt—freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear—the RIAS will host a public symposium titled “Seeking Refuge: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Refugees and Asylum” on 27-28 September 2018. The event will bring together an interdisciplinary group of experts—including historians, legal scholars, and policymakers—and will explore the nature and consequences of various “refugee crises” in the modern era. Three themes in particular will be explored: 1) journeys over land and sea; 2) sanctuary cities; and 3) the role of government and civil society. Nine speakers have been invited from across the US and Europe, as well as two keynotes by experts in the field: the distinguished former Director of the UNHCR New York Office Udo K. Janz, and Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Smith College (Massachusetts) Peter I. Rose.

The symposium is organized in conjunction with the NWO Vidi project “Beacons of Freedom: Slave Refugees in North America, 1800-1860” under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Damian Pargas at Leiden University, and with the assistance of the NWO Vici research team “Cities of Refuge” under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Barbara Oomen of University College Roosevelt.

The conference program can be downloaded here.