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The Refugee Crisis: Who makes it to safety? panel

January 12, 2015 1:27:10
Kaltura Video

2013 Livingston Award winner Luke Mogelson, Joel Lovell, John Ciorciari and Susan Waltz discuss the themes of "The Dream Boat," Mogelson's New York Times Magazine story about the plight of political asylum seekers.


>> Good afternoon everybody, and welcome. It's wonderful to see everyone here this afternoon. I'm Susan Collins the Joan and Sanford Weill Dean here at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. And we're delighted to have all of you here with us for the first of our policy talks for 2015. And we hope many of you will continue to join us as our program unfolds. We are particularly thankful to today's speakers, Luke Mogelson and Joel Lovell, who have joined us from afar. And so we appreciate them traveling here to join us and also delighted to welcome my colleagues, Professor John Ciorciari and Susan Waltz. We will be doing special invitations -- not invitations, introductions, excuse me -- in just a few moments. But I did want to just say a couple of words before turning things over to my partner in organizing this event. This event, as you'll see, really highlights some of the important interactions between public policy and journalism. And that is something that we think is particularly interesting and important and we're delighted to be having this joint partnership in that context. And so I'm very grateful our co-sponsors, The Livingston Award for Young Journalists and its Director, Charles Eisendrath. And in a moment Charles will be introducing our speakers as I have just mentioned. But I did want to say just a bit about him before I turn the podium over to him. Following a very dynamic international career in journalism which spanned DC and London and Paris and Buenos Aires and perhaps some other places as well, he came to the University of Michigan as a journalism fellow in 1974 and then began running the Journalism Master's Program. His writing and his commentary have appeared in "The New York Times," "The Wall Street Journal," "The Detroit Free Press," and the list goes on and one. And I'm sure that many of you have read a number of his pieces. For the past three decades he has been the Director of the Knight Wallace Fellows Program and he also is the founding director for the Livingston Awards. And you'll be hearing a little bit more about that program as well. Both of these, of course, are extremely successful programs that really are committed to the intellectual develop and professional advancement of journalists. And just this past spring Charles was inducted into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame. Congratulations. And that's an honor that is very, very well deserved. Let me just say a quick note about the format today. So following the panel discussion our speakers will take questions from the audience. You should have received a card as you joined us. And we encourage you to write your questions down on the cards that were passed. We'll be collecting them at various stages later on this afternoon. And I'd ask you also at the bottom if you would tell us your affiliation with the university. Are you a student? Are you a faculty member? Are you a member of the community? That would be helpful, I think, as we frame responses. A volunteer, volunteers will collect those. If you are watching us online, we encourage you to tweet your questions using the hashtag policytalks. And the Q and A will facilitated by one of our Master's in Public Policy students, Carlos Roblas, and one of our Knight Wallace Fellows, Helen Maynard. Actually, I think we have two, Helen Maynard and Abbie Swanson. So we're delighted to have all of you here to facilitate our Q and A session at the end. And so it is now my great pleasure to turn the podium over to Charles Eisendrath. Welcome. [ Applause ] >> Thanks Susan. Thank you all for coming. I hope you had an easier time parking than I did. I ended up in a small pileup in the Ford School lot, which we were trying to disentangle. And so if you see me disappear and talk to a policeman, that's why. Welcome. It's wonderful to have you all here. I can see right now it's a very diverse audience. I thought I'd better explain a little bit about the Livingston Awards and why I would say all of you are hearing about this program for the first time even though it's been at the university for 30 years. The reason is that like anything in the United States or most things, the work goes on in the hinterland. That's where we live. And the glory goes on in New York City. And so, the prizes are given in New York City at a great big glitzy lunch. And all the work is done by Melissa Riley and the other people in Wallace House right here in Ann Arbor. By the work, I mean 400 or 500, 500 at least, submissions to this prize come into Wallace House, which is on Oxford Road. And they are reduced in number from 500 to about 50. They are sent to some of the foremost journalists in the country. Right now it's a new anchor, it is several columnists, it is the editor of "The New York Times." And they make the decision on who wins this prize. So it's a fairly big prize, $10,000. But the biggest prize who gives it to the young journalists. This is a prize, it's a Pulitzer Prize for the young. It's limited to people under the age of 35. And the idea is to identify the leaders in journalism before they are identified some other way and to send them on their way as quickly as possible. And to give you an idea of how well it works -- and I'm not claiming credit for this, I want to give the credit to the judges of this award -- they include people like Christiane Amanpour. They include people like the editor of "The New Yorker." They include Ira Glass, whose name will come up in a minute, who founded "This American Life." Thomas Freidman of "The New York Times," and on and on and on. These were young people, wet behind the ears, when they were trotted up in front of a lot of very important people in journalism, like 150 of them. And basically blessed. And what they do after that is, of course, due to their own talent. But anyway, it gets them on their way. Because it's a little unknown, I've brought along two things that I'll hand around. This is a -- the small one is a brochure describing the lunch. You'll see who the judges are and who the winners were. And this is all the winner's pieces including the one by Luke Mogelson, who's one of our speakers today. So that' what we're doing here. Just last year we added a feature to the prize program, which is to take the winners or invite the winners to address audiences around the country on the subject, to audiences that will be particularly interested in their piece that won the Livingston Award. In this case, Luke's piece is on the refugee problem, who makes it, basically. This is a man who specializes in survival and survival writing. His piece -- he has a piece coming out in "The New Yorker" today on who survives ebola and why and why not. Let me give you a small introduction about Luke. We have two things in common. One is that we published our first piece "The Nation" magazine. The second is, for god knows why, he was in the Army National Guard, the 69th Infantry Division. But I know why I was in the 29th Infantry Division. And that was to avoid going to Vietnam. Maybe we'll hear about Luke's reasons later. At any rate, he has done work all over the country, including Michigan. And the piece that he wrote was in "The New York Times Magazine." It's a piece on how survivors -- I mean, how refugees survive or don't survive. I mention "The New York Times Magazine" last because it's a good bridge to our other speaker, Joel Lovell. Joel Lovell was the editor of "The New York Times Magazine" or second-in-command editor. And he now works for "The Atavist" and "This American Life," said piece from Ira Glass, who invented the thing. But he started right here in a creative writing program. And then in a great move downward, he was my first assistant at Wallace House. And I must say that he was helplessly overqualified for that position. And every time I passed him in the hall he looked somewhat baffled at what he was supposed to be doing. And I could not give him much guidance because I wasn't sure myself. At any rate, he's gone on to great glory and is still there. I think at this point I will turn this over to John, of your faculty. And he will start the panel going. We are here really to explore, with your help, the refugee issue and the most creative ways to address it, not only in journalism but in policy. And that's where you come in. John. >> Thank you. Thank you so much for coming. I'm very pleased, of course, to welcome Luke and Joel as well. I'm John Ciorciari. I co-direct the International Policy Center here and I'm an Assistant Professor at the Ford School. Many of you also know Susan Waltz, who's a Professor of Practice and both an expert scholar and a practitioner of human rights internationally. Today we're going to use Luke's story "The Dream Boat" to look at some of the human side of the refugee crisis, also some of the role of the media and the evolution of some of the relevant laws and policies relating to refugees. After decades of both official actors and civil society groups trying to develop stronger protections for refugees, millions and millions of people around the world still embark on perilous journeys with very, very uncertain prospects of protection at the other end in their places of destination. And so what we're going to do is we're going to begin with a panel presentation and then have Q and A, as Susan mentioned. Luke and Joel are going to start by having a conversation about the piece in their roles as the author and as the editor of "The Dream Boat" respectively. And then Susan and I will follow. I'll talk a little bit about the relevant law and Susan will conclude by discussing some of the institutional framework for managing asylum-seeking flows and also some of the various options that asylum seekers may have when searching for protection. So, Luke and Joel, please, we'd like to start with you. >> Great. Thanks John. Thanks, too, to the Ford School and to Charles and Melissa and the Livingston Awards for bringing us here. It's really nice to be here. I was a student here 20 years ago, so it's really nice to be back. Luke and I were talking earlier and we figured the best way to do this would be for us just to talk about how this story came into being. So how and why he initially became interested in this topic and then how the reporting unfolded, decisions that he made along the way in terms of the reporting and the writing. And then from my end, which is much less interesting, what sort of issues came up at the time as we were thinking about the publication of the piece. As you can imagine, you know, the refugee, the stories of refugees and asylum seekers are simultaneously incredibly important as an issue and also really, really hard to tell in a way that's interesting. There are all sorts of obstacles to reporting these stories with any kind of intimacy. And so we tend to see stories that have a little bit of a similar flavor to them over and over. And then those stories, you know, those stories can kind of feel familiar to readers and it becomes hard to reach an audience. And then once in a while, not very often in my experience, somebody comes along and does something like Luke did and sort of cracks the issue open and makes it very vital and fresh in a way that, at least in my case, I'd never experienced quite before. So, we just thought we would talk through the process of how this happened. And I guess I'll just start by asking Luke, who at the time, he was living in Kabul and reporting for the "Times Magazine" and had done a few stories for us from there. And then he had the idea of doing this piece. And I'll just let him take it from there and explain at least what the germ of the story was. >> Hi. So, that was a basically the summer of 2013. And the surge was over. And the phased withdrawal of American troops was beginning. And there was a lot of anxiety in the country about the future and also about the present. And more Afghans were fleeing the country and seeking asylum abroad than ever before. And the photographer Joel Van Houdt and I wanted to address that story somehow. And we thought, as well, that illustrating the kind of extreme lengths that Afghans were willing to go to to escape their country would also implicitly illustrate how bad things were there. And there was no better example of that than this boat journey that Afghans were taking across the Indian Ocean, because a lot of them died on the way. So, that was the original idea. And it then became just a question of how to execute it. >> Sorry. Thanks. And so, I actually don't remember the answer to this. So you had the initial idea, and then how do you go about figuring out literally how people make this trip? Like what do they have to do in order to set themselves on their way? >> Yeah, that wasn't so -- that wasn't so difficult because, you know, I had a lot of friends, a lot of Afghan friends who were trying to leave the country. Basically everybody I knew in Kabul and outside of Kabul in the provinces at that time was trying to get out, or at least thinking about ways to get out. And that includes, you know, rural villagers and urbanites with university educations. So, it was just common knowledge that, you know, if you want to go to -- if you wanted to go to Australia, you got in contact with one of about a half dozen smugglers who orchestrated the trip from abroad. And you paid them. You made a down payment to them via what's called the hawala system, which is essentially a form of transferring money between Muslim countries. And so that's what we did. I had a friend in Kabul who pretended to be kind of an aspiring recruiter of asylum seekers. And he contacted this smuggler who went by the honorific Hajji Sahib. That's not his real name. It was his common honorific. And then we went to the money market in Kabul, a place called Sarai Shahzada, and paid $8,000 to a guy behind the desk. And he in turn gave us two numbers, our hawala codes. And basically, the way that works is the person we paid the cash to was going to hold onto the funds until we arrived at our destination, which was this small island in Australian territorial waters called Christmas Island. And at that point he would release -- or actually another hawala vendor in Jakarta would release the payment to Hajji Sahib. >> So if you're an Afghan and you want to leave, you'd go to this money market. You pay $8,000. The money -- >> $4,000 per person. >> Got it, got it, got it. And then the money basically gets held until you reach your destination, at which point it's paid to -- >> Yeah. It gets paid to the smuggler at that point, yeah. So it's a way of guaranteeing that they don't just take your money without getting you to the island. So, maybe I should provide some more context on why people are going to this island, because basically there are very few ways out of Afghanistan. It's a landlocked country and the countries that are contiguous with its borders are problematic for Afghans and difficult to travel through. But, there's -- you can fly to Jakarta pretty easily. And from there you can -- it's only 200 miles across the ocean to this small island off the mainland of Australia, called Christmas Island. And prior to 2001, if you got to Christmas Island, that would mean that the Australian government was obligated to consider your application for protection under the refugee convention. That later changed with a policy known as the Pacific Solution where they started interdicting both at sea and also diverting people who did arrive on Christmas Island to other countries, namely Papua New Guinea and the Republic of Nauru, and simultaneously they excised, Christmas -- the waters around Christmas Island from the mainland's immigration zone, thus freeing themselves from honoring their commitment to the convention, the Refugee Convention. So basically people, once they arrived at Christmas Island would be sent to these detention centers in Papua New Guinea and the Republic of Nauru. And that policy never really got back to the Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians, Syrians, who were trying to go to Australia. So they were still continuing to go. And there was also a large Hazara diaspora in Australia already who had gone there during the Taliban regime. The Hazara are a Shia ethnic minority in Afghanistan that were just brutally persecuted by the Sunni Taliban. So, after the American invasion, when things started getting bad again in Afghanistan, Hazaras resumed trying to reach Australia to join this diaspora, basically. >> Right. And again, they're unaware of the change in the Australian approach. >> Yeah, or they were aware but didn't believe it. >> Right. So then, back to you. You go -- and when you show up in the money market, you can't say, obviously, we're a couple journalists looking to do this. So how did that work, exactly? >> Oh, right. So, yeah. I forgot about that. Yeah, so we had to come up with basically cover stories and identities. And we chose to be Georgian. >> Why? [ Laughter ] So why Georgian? >> Yeah, well, we're obviously Caucasian. Joel is Dutch. I'm American. We're obviously Caucasian. And we were worried about running to Russian speakers along the way and so that eliminated a lot of countries. And then, you know, someone said: What about Georgia? [ Laughter ] >> And thus, a Livingston Award was born. >> Yeah. Yeah, although we were very apprehensive about running into a Georgian. >> So then, once the deposit is made, you guys get on a plane. You fly to Jakarta. And what happens there? >> So, yeah. We flew to Jakarta. Then I called Hajji Sahib when, you know, shortly after we arrived. And he sent somebody to pick us up outside of a 7-11 at an appointed time. And that person, it was a local Indonesian man, brought us to a safe house on the outskirts of Jakarta, which is just a really tall kind of apartment tower complex right in the slums on Jakarta Bay. And there we joined a couple dozen asylum seekers who were in this kind of limbo waiting for a boat to depart from the island to Christmas Island. >> Just to give a little context. You know, roughly how many boats are going out, going from Jakarta or other places to Christmas Island? How frequently and for how long? >> Yeah, at that point they were going about once a week or once every couple weeks. It depends because they, you know, they have to recruit local fishermen to captain the boats. In some cases they have the build the boats. And then they have to have enough people on them -- well, as many people as possible -- to maximize the profits. Because the boats are, once they cross, the boats are confiscated by the Australian navy and destroyed or scuttled in the ocean off the coast of Christmas Island. So, you know, to recoup all that overhead and also just to make as much money as possible, they really wait until they have the boat packed. And so there were people in there who had been waiting for months. Oh, and also, you have to pay off the Indonesian officials. You have to make sure that the people you have paid off are on duty. And you have to coordinate among a network of drivers and people on the beach for the transportation of the people, which can be 60 to 70 people that you're moving from these safe houses to the coast and then leaving without being seen. And it just takes time. And there have been people waiting in this apartment for months with no money, no cash. And they were really -- it's a very dispiriting to be in that kind of purgatory for that long. >> I'm just going to interrupt here to say that while Luke was reporting this story, as his editor back in New York, of course, and the other people at "The Times" who knew he was doing this, we were waiting to hear news to make sure he was doing okay. But of course, he couldn't openly communicate with us. So, you know, every four or five days, maybe, an email would come in, a very sort of terse email would come in saying: Here in a safe house. Staying with a family of however many people. Will write again when I can. So, I actually can't at the moment remember exactly how many days you and Joel were there. But it's worth sort of -- if you don't mind -- describing the scene, the people there, the other asylum seekers. >> Yeah, we were there for a couple weeks, a little longer, I think. And there were family -- it was mostly men, young men, some of whom had left their families back in their home countries. Also, I didn't mention, it turned out, once we got there, that the vast majority of the asylum seekers in Jakarta that we encountered were Iranian. They weren't Afghan. There were only a few Afghans. So, and that was really surprising. We weren't expecting that. We had intended to do a story on Afghan refugees. And then when we finally did get on the boat it there was only one Afghan. The rest were all Iranian. But, a lot of them had -- yeah, they had left family behind. They were mainly lower middle class or middle class. You know, you had to have enough money to be able to pay this pretty steep fee to the smuggler. So, they weren't too impoverished. I mean, there were, among the people I spent time with, there was a barber, there was a builder, there was an imam. There was an engineer. And so it was really a wide range. >> And some people travelling with their kids as well. >> Yeah, so Joel and I were put in a little one bedroom apartment with a man and his young daughter and son. And he had left his wife in Iran planning to bring her to Australia once they got there. And yeah, and those kids were, I mean, they were relentlessly optimistic and really handled the situation remarkably well. Yeah. >> One thing, in terms of the reporting, so obviously in order to pay the smuggler back in Kabul and then get on their way, they had to, you know, they had to say that they are Georgians. The plan had been all along that when Luke and Joel got to Jakarta, joined the other asylum seekers, that they would reveal their true identities to at least some of the people they were travelling with. Tell them that they were journalists. They would be able to sort of, we imagined anyway, report on the sly over the course of the journey. And then it became clear once they were in Jakarta that that wasn't going to happen. And I don't know, maybe you want to talk a little bit about that [inaudible]. >> Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that was a huge issue. So, at a certain point in the safe house, it became clear that you know, if we told anyone that we were on assignment, it would get back to the smugglers pretty quickly. And well, it'd put us at risk, but also we'd never get on the boat, which was the whole point. And at that point, you know, we really questioned whether or not we should continue with the project or just cut our losses and go back to Afghanistan. Because of the, you know, the troubling ethical problem of being under cover and reporting on people who don't know that you're reporting on them. It's, yeah, it's troubling. I mean, ultimately we decided that the story warranted doing that. And it remains an open question or a question for, you know, a legitimate question, whether or not it did or didn't. But that was the decision that we made. And even at some point we thought, well, once we get on the boat, we can reveal our identities. But that turned out to be completely impractical because everyone was just throwing up the whole time. And the engine was so loud you couldn't hear what anyone was saying anyway. And nobody would have cared. [ Laughter ] And also, I will say. I should say that we did part of our cover story that we did say we were Georgian journalists. >> Oh, you did? >> Yeah. >> I didn't know that. >> Because Joel was taking these photos the whole time. >> Right. >> And so, and we told them, you know, that he was a photographer. So, there's that. >> Right, right. Okay, so then the actual process of getting from the safe house. You wait for as long as it takes for the smugglers to say: Okay, well we have enough people to put on our boat now. And as I remember there are sometimes for reasons that are unclear, some people think they're going to get on the boat and then suddenly they're told they're not going. But then once things get underway, explain how that process works. >> Yeah, so the other thing I forgot to mention about the wait is that oftentimes people will go to the boat and get turned back for various reasons. And that actually happened to us. We went. A group of us got the call that it's time. I mean, basically every day you're just sitting by your phone waiting for the smuggler to call you and tell you that your boat's ready. And we got that call. And we were packed into a convoy of SUVs and driven across Java to the coast and intercepted by the police, actually. And then, it was a very confusing situation. Nobody really knew what was going on. We called Hajji Sahib and he said he was taking care of it. At some point the police brought us to this very remote village and just left us there. And everybody started kind of flagging down cars and trucks and busses and gradually working our way back to the safe house in Jakarta, which took the whole night. And my impression was that there was a problem with the bribes that later got sorted out and that's why they just dropped us off in this village. So that happened to us. It can also happen that people will leave on the boat and the boat founders very quickly and they get rescued by Indonesian police and have to bribe those police. So that had happened to people we talked to. At any rate, eventually we did get on a boat, on this boat. And it left in the middle of the night. And we were -- to leave they basically crammed us all in the bow and put a tarp over us and nailed down the tarp because there's people on the coast keeping watch. And by dawn we were kind of on the open sea. And they let us out. And we travelled for about three days across, yeah, across the ocean. >> How many people are on the boat? >> There were 57, I think. Yeah, 57. And there were a bunch of kids. And I forget exactly the numbers, but you can kind of see in the stern there, behind those little steering stations, the kids were all consolidated back there. And then the women -- there was a covered bow, so the women and elderly were mostly in the bow. Including, there was a seven-month pregnant woman. And then everyone else was just kind of in this open deck area. >> I think, again, we're stopping for context here. So, you know, so many, many times a year these boats make this journey. I can't remember the numbers off the top of my head, though I imagine you will be able to. Oftentimes the boats fall apart in the open water. They sink. Many people have drowned. If you can just give a little bit of like the context of just the danger of making the trip. >> Yeah, it's known that over a thousand people have drowned. Probably a lot more have. They're just not seaworthy vessels. They're fishing boats meant for the stiller waters near the coastline. And they're also not meant for such a load, so many people. So, yeah, it's dangerous. And the water's constantly splashing in. I mean, for three days, it's just miserable. I mean, everyone -- there's no toilet. Everyone's going in their pants. The women are going in their pants. The men just in the boat where you're all sleeping. Or actually not sleeping. But everyone's incredibly sick. And the heat, the sun, is very powerful. And people had heat stroke. Yeah, and so basically, I'll wrap it up here, but at a certain point when we got into Australian territorial waters, a battleship came. And these guys boarded the boat and brought us to Christmas Island. And that's me in the green shirt. But, they brought us to Christmas Island. And every one of these people was taken to a detention center. And after a few days, flown either to the Republic of Nauru or Papua New Guinea, where they are still today. For various policy reasons that maybe we can talk about, or you can talk about. But they're sent there. They basically have two choices. They can either return, repatriate voluntarily to Iran, or allow Papua New Guinea or the Republic of Nauru to process their refugee applications. At that point, if they're applications are found to be -- if they're found to be deserving of protection, to be legitimate refugees, they can resettle in those countries, so in Papua New Guinea or on Nauru, which is essentially a phosphate mine. And Papua New Guinea as one of the highest murder rates in the world and is, you know, one of the poorest countries in the world. None of them will ever get to Australia. That's, yeah. So that's -- >> All right. So maybe it's worth just wrapping up very quickly to explain why, then, you know, why do you think they do this? Why do people go through this? >> Yeah. >> Their chances are so slim. >> I mean, it's a tough question. It's not that they don't know that this is probably going to happen. Because they have access that information. And they do know. They talked about it all the time, these policies of the Australian Government. But they find various ways to explain it away. They say: Well, you know, maybe when a new government comes in it'll change. Or it's all just -- they're trying to prevent us from coming in the first place but they won't actually send us to the Republic of Nauru. I mean, what kind of country would do that? And they just managed to convince themselves that there's hope, basically, when there's not. >> If you haven't read the story, it's, of course, really worth reading. It's an amazing, amazing piece of journalism. But there's one line in it that we were talking about earlier that John recalled, which is that you know, the way you can sort of imagine why somebody would put themselves -- put him- or herself through something like this is that the -- maybe the only thing worse than going through this journey is what they're experiencing in their home countries. Which is an important thing to keep in mind I think, as you guys, then, talk more about the policy implications of all this. >> Thank you both very much. And hopefully my brief comments will pick up right where Luke left off, which is what happens under the law when asylum seekers of the type whom you accompanied arrive at their destinations. And the legal analysis turns mainly on two questions. The first is: Who qualifies as a refugee? And the second is: Under what conditions is the country that receives these asylum seekers barred from returning them to their countries of origin. On the first question of who's a refugee, the 1951 Refugee Convention, which was then modified in 1967, lays out a clear definition that's used also as the basis for national asylum laws around the world, which is somebody who has a well-founded fear of persecution on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. And notice that the persecution has to be based on one of those five enumerated grounds. So when we're talking amongst ourselves, we commonly refer to people who are fleeing things like war, dire poverty and natural disaster as refugees. But that's not the prevailing definition under the law. Human rights organizations, scholars and many others have tried to broaden that definition. And there are some examples of instruments in international law that do broaden it. For example, there's a 1969 treaty involving a number of African countries that includes war and other sources of generalized violence as a basis for refugee status. There's also a declaration in Latin America from the 1980s that has a similar provision in it. But by and large, nation states, especially the nation states who perceive themselves as being likely destinations of asylum seekers have stuck to that traditional definition in large part and tried to keep that window relatively narrow for who could qualify as a refugee and therefore be entitled to protection. Some of the most important contemporary debates at the national level are often questions over who falls into that category of a protected social group. For example, in a number of countries, including Australia, there's been recognition that women who have suffered from female genital mutilation are part of a protected social group. There are also cases in which gays and lesbians have been entitled to asylum in Western countries on the basis of persecution against them in their countries of origin. But, and in the United States there's now a robust debate as many of you are familiar with, about whether young people who flee countries like Honduras or El Salvador and arrive at the southern border of the US as part of an effort to escape gang violence their neighborhoods should be entitled treatment as refugees based on that particular threat. I could come up with many more examples, but suffice it to say that there is still the general principle that fleeing general violence or even dire poverty or natural disasters is not typically characterized as a basis for refugee status. And it's partly how, as Luke summarized at the end, there's so little legal hope for the people who accompanied you. Because if they don't fall into those specified categories, the law provides them very little protection. Now, there is a second way they could be protected even if they're not determined to be refugees, and that's through the principle of non-refoulement, which is just a French word meaning we're not going to send you back to the place where you may face harm. Non-refoulement clearly does apply to people who are qualified as refugees, meaning that if you are determined to be a refugee, then you cannot be sent back to the country where you may face persecution. But it also applies to people who may be threatened with torture if they're repatriated. The convention against torture includes that provision. And number of international organizations, the UN Human Rights Committee, the European Court for Human Rights and others have agreed that one's protection under the non-refoulement principle is not limited to refugees or people designated as refugees. What the law says a lot less about is how broadly beyond refugee status or threats of torture the law would offer that protection. Are people protected under non-refoulement if the country that they come from is experiencing gang violence, is experiencing civil conflict and so forth? The law is murky in this area. There's also a big question as to whether a state can intercept asylum seekers outside of its own territory on the high seas and then repatriate them as a way of avoiding the hands being tied by the non-refoulement principle. In the US there's a famous 1993 Supreme Court decision that said 8 to 1 that the executive authorities in the US could, in fact, intercept, in this case Haitians on the high seas and return them to Haiti. And that wouldn't violate the refoulement principle. More recently in 2012, the European Court of Human Rights had to confront this question in a case involving Italian navy and coast guard sending back North African asylum seekers. And the European court found contra to the 1993 US decision that non-refoulement applies to official agents, wherever they are in the world, not just once asylum seekers reach the soil of their intended destination country. But there's still debate over this. That a European court decision isn't binding on Australia or on the United States. And in fact, Australia, as we discussed earlier, Luke, Australia has used the US Supreme Court Decision as one of the jurisprudential bases for this policy of the Pacific Solution and the use of Christmas Island and Nauru and Papua New Guinea. The question then arises: Well, if whether or not somebody is able to reach the territorial waters of Australia or not, can Australia send asylum seekers to a third country like Papua New Guinea? The legal standard is that Australia can't do that, or no country can do that if there's reason to believe that the third country would violate non-refoulement and send the person back to the country where they'd face persecution or if the asylum seeker would otherwise be treated inhumanely or in violation of international human rights law. And so the debate here surrounds whether or not Papua New Guinea has the ability and/or the will to process asylum claims well. And as we discussed off-line, they have very, very little experience in dealing with these kinds of cases. And so advocates for asylum seekers who have been sent there have challenged the Australian government and argued that it has violated non-refoulement on the grounds that it's sending people to a place where they will be treated poorly and where their asylum claims couldn't really be given a fair vetting by the PNG authorities. All of this points to the fact that it's not just the substantive law that's on the books that's relevant to the fate of people like the ones whom Luke accompanied on the Dream Boat, but it's also the way in which those laws are implemented, the way in which people are screened, the institutions who do the screening, what the national level policies are that inform those processes. And so, I'm going to turn now to Susan who's going to talk a little bit more about that subject. >> Thank you. So John mentioned the 1951 Refugee Convention. And alongside that convention, in a parallel political discussion back in 1951, the world community decided, was faced with what to do with a number of refugees out of World War II that were remaining and also refugees that were extending from the Cold War, emergent Cold War period. There was a big discussion about what kind of institution should be set up to deal with that. And there was actually a much stronger debate than you might have imagined. The Soviet Union was at least as adamant as others that there really was not a refugee problem that needed to be addressed and were very resistant to the idea of setting up an international organization. The United States had its own views about how best to handle it. And there was not really strong support for a very robust international organization. Nevertheless, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was set up at that time as a very anemic organization, very small budget, always had to issue appeals for money on specific concerns rather than to have a really large budget. But the Office of the High Commissioner was set up. And it became one track or one of two tracks for achieving refugee status. So, and I'll be -- I'm setting this up now to be able to talk about the options are for someone who is in desperate situations. So the existence of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is one thing you need to know about. The other is that because the world community was not ready to really set up a central mechanism, it left to individual states to set up their own mechanisms for granting political asylum to whoever they really wanted to deem qualified. As long as they adhered to the international rules that John described. So, no country could violate this principle of customary as well as now treaty law of non-refoulement. So countries had to respect that. But apart from that they were free to really set up their own system. So, as a result, we have the system that runs through the UN High Commissioner of Refugees, and then we have a system or multiple systems created by 193 nation states. So every one of those countries can set up their own rules. So, if you happen to be a refugee, or you happen to be -- actually, not a refugee, but somebody in a terrible situation and you think: I've got to get out of here. Things are really terrible, not tenable. You have basically three options. There are variations on these themes, but you basically have three options. One is to say: My neighborhood is in shambles. I'm going to move next door. I'm going to move to a city. I'm going to find my relatives, wherever they are in my country. But you don't cross an international border. You just move around and find a haven. Maybe not a fully safe haven and maybe not one where you've got a lot of economic possibilities, but it still may be your best and most immediate move. If you end up staying in such a situation for a long period of time you're likely to become labeled over time an internally displaced person, IDP. You could easily end up in a camp of some sort. You could still receive services from the United Nations. But until you leave an -- until you cross an international border, you're not potentially a refugee. So, IDPs. That's one option is just moving around inside your own country. The second option that you have, the one that presents itself most immediately is to flee across land to the nearest neighbor and find yourself through a safe passage, perhaps, or maybe even hiring a smuggler, to take you across to a neighboring country. And if that host country is welcoming, you may find temporary shelter that's provided by that country. But if a large number of people are coming, chances are the United Nations and all of its auxiliary agencies will be called in to help facilitate the arrival of large flows of people. So, we're talking about, now, the UN High Commissioner of Refugees, but also the International Organization of Migration, OSHA, World Food Program, UNICEF, WHO, UN Habitat. They all can come into play, set up tents, tent cities, provide various kinds of relief for you. And ultimately, in this kind of a case, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees holds a very particular authority. They can certify you as a refugee. And possibly prepare you for resettlement, but certainly in the meantime, provide you with the wherewithal for survival. It used to be they gave more material, now they're tending to give debit cards and vouchers for various services. The third option that you have is to make your way on your own to another country. And that's pretty much what your companions on your journey were doing. Probably by air or by sea. If you're a person of means and you've got a passport and you've got credentials, whether or not you've got a visa into any place, as long as you've got a passport, that's in a way a ticket out. You've got the money to get yourself to some other country. Then you've got a number of choices within that country. You can immediately apply for asylum, say, we qualify for one of these five categories or five reasons to feel that we may face persecution back at home. And we will immediately file for asylum. You may wait for a while. Many countries give you a year or so grace period in which you can decide whether you're really just on a three-week holiday or you're here for good. But you can apply for asylum and then go through that country's own procedures. And these three options, obviously depending on how much money you have, what kind of means you have available to you, they may present themselves as more feasible one over the other. The last comment I wanted to make before -- a set of comments, really -- I wanted to make before we go back and open things up for a discussion is that the reason that we're talking about a crisis today is that whereas in just recent memory we were talking about a mere 25 million people. Today, we're talking about -- excuse me -- we're talking about 51.2 million people that are on the move in this way. And they've taken one of these three options. It's a number that hasn't been seen since the period of World War II. And people are in serious situations of desperation. Today, roughly one out of every five people who is in a situation of either being internally displaced or having crossed an international border is from Syria. And there are five countries near Syria that are accommodating most of the people who have made their way outside the country. I should say before going on that early, when the regime was set -- when the International Refugee Regime was set up, resettlement was the ideal. About 20 years ago that shifted quite a bit. And it's the international community view that -- and that's international community is kind of code for not just the United Nations but also potential recipient countries -- feel that repatriation is a better way forward for the good of the people who are leaving, but obviously also it alleviates quite a bit of the burden of the cost of resettling people. But we are in a crisis right now to the extent that 25 percent of the population of Lebanon is refugees. And that's just as of about two years ago, or numbers that have accrued in the last two years. And we are at a position where there has been a pledge internationally by recipient countries to take 100,000 of the existing refugees, not just from Syria, but for the world. That's basically 1 percent of the Syrian crisis. So we have -- we are really in a period where it's a very dark situation for the people who have already come to the decision that their lives are untenable. And the problem right now doesn't really seem to have any solutions on the horizon. >> Thanks. And so hopefully you've all gotten your cards and have been able, you have questions, to pass them to the aisles. We have some folks waving cards to receive. But if I could, I'd like to turn to our question readers, to whom we're grateful. And maybe you could start off with a few questions for the panel. >> Sure. We have a question here -- we're going to combine a couple questions in the cases because they're similar. I'm Helen Maynard. I'm one of the Knight Wallace fellows. For Luke, when you were looking into the story, did you have opportunity to stay in touch with any of the refugees? Have you also been in touch with any of the smugglers? And to complete this mission, how did you work through the language barriers and how did the refugees work through these language barriers on the boat trying to commission these services? >> So, both of the detention centers in Papua New Guinea and the Republic of Nauru are extremely opaque. They do not grant access to journalists, even email. All emails are monitored. And it's even difficult for journalists to communicate by phone to any of the asylum seekers in these facilities. And aid workers as well, including The Red Cross has difficulty accessing them. So, I haven't been in touch with them, no. And although I do know that some of them -- some of the people in the story are in the facility on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, which, actually in February, maybe I should mention, had an extremely violent riot, where the asylum seekers attempted to escape and were very violently suppressed. And one Iranian man was beaten to death with sticks. And his skull was later found to be completely crushed in by Australian and Papua New Guinean officials. So I do know that the situation there is bad. And that people from the story are there. But beyond that, I really don't know much. The language barrier, you know, everybody speaks a bit of English now. And Joel and I both also spoke a bit of Dari, which is the language they speak in Afghanistan and is basically a dialect of Farsi, which they speak in Iran. >> And very limited Georgian. >> Yeah [Laughs]. Yeah. So yeah. That's basically it. We navigated that. >> I'm Abbie Swanson. I'm also a Knight Wallace fellow. I cover food and agriculture for NPR shows like "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered." Another question, which says it's for Luke but it might also be for Susan or John, wondering if you know what's happened in Australia since you filed this story in terms of asylum seekers and if that situation has changed there? And Luke, whether you feel this experience, filing this story has had a positive impact in a way? I know you were kind of talking about the ethical questions. So I guess that's a more personal one. >> [Laughs] Yeah, we were just talking about this, actually. The story has had no impact. Yeah. And the policies that were put in place have, if anything, become even more extreme. We went there -- we made this trip in the midst of a national election, which put -- made Tony Abbott prime minister, who is a conservative. And basically his whole campaign was centered around stopping the boats. And he promised voters that he would do that with a program called Operation Sovereign Borders, which put, among other things, put the military in charge of interdicting asylum boats like this at sea and turning them back the countries they came from, whether it's Indonesia or Sri Lanka. And they've been doing that. >> May I add very briefly that in July -- or late June or early July of last year the Australian interdiction forces intercepted a boat full of Tamils from Sri Lanka off Christmas Island and handed them over -- or I believe there was an injunction and then later they handed them over to the Sri Lankan navy. And a case has been filed in the Australian High Court. And the decision is not expected imminently, but should come within the next several months. And that offers a possibility of a judicial challenge to the policies that Luke has described. >> And if I could just jump in here briefly just to -- this is going to sound like I rode in on a unicorn to say this, but so maybe I'm just trying to make Luke feel better, but one thing the story did certainly do is in the middle of this election, especially, it generated an enormous amount of attention and conversation, a really extraordinary amount. And it was already an issue that was quite important to a lot people in Australia. It was being discussed in the election a lot. But in the aftermath of the story, that conversation, at least as far as I could tell from following it from afar, you know, changed considerably. It was the first time that anybody, that any reporter, had actually reported on the experience, you know, the day to day, moment to moment experience of these people. And I think that it had, if not an effect on policy yet, it certainly shifted the balance of the conversation in a way that you hope over time is going to matter. At least that's my sunny take on it. >> Yeah, I mean it's just that while I'm sitting here, all these people are in these horrible detention centers. All of them. And it's still true that taking an extremely hard line on immigration and boat people in Australian politics pays. It's always paid. And that's still true. >> So to complicate the story, though, the policy story. I'm looking at a set of figures that come from the UN High Commissioner on Refugees for 2013. And during that year, the UN resettled 71,000 people. And Australia ranked number 2 in taking 15 percent of those that came through the UN channels. So, they're not allowing people in through their asylum process on the seas, but they have been generous in resettling people from the UN if they're referred as refugees out of the UN process. And the fact that there are these two different tracks kind of complicates things and makes it a little challenging to put together the whole picture. The US, by the way, was the number 1 country for resettlement. >> Thank you. My name is Carlos Roblas. I'm a student of Public Policy here at the Ford School. And my main interests are education and immigration. So we have a question here for Susan Waltz saying: How would you rate the overall world view on accepting refugees? And how far back can we trace the history of protecting refugees? >> Well, the last one is kind of easy in that I think the word asylum goes all the way back to ancient Greece. It's been a -- and there have been found manuscripts in Egypt that, you know, have the idea, reflect the idea of accepting people in who have been persecuted. So the idea of refugees and asylum go way, way, way back and are really anchored in customary law. How do people feel? I mean, that's a big question I guess. But, I think a lot of the way that people respond to refugees has to do with identity and also has to do with economic opportunities, et cetera. We were talking a little bit before we came in here about open door policies. And you know, it wasn't really such a long time ago in this country that just about anybody could come in through Ellis Island. And then as economic situations change, we have not necessarily been so open to the free movement of labor as a factor of production. And just even the human aspect of it. In fact, the 25 -- I'm sure that the Lebanese who were very welcoming last year probably don't feel quite the same. And the last thing I will say here is I remember being in Jordan in 2007 and how welcoming Jordan had been to Iraqi refugees when they had a lot of money. And then as the money began to dry up, they were not quite as ready. So, it's a tough human question. >> Okay. Another question for you, Luke. For people who haven't read the story, maybe, because I think you touch on some of this in your story, could you describe what happened at the end of the boat ride? At what point did you part ways with the refugees? Was there a moment when they realized that you and your friend were going to receive different treatment and face a very different fate? >> Yeah. The first contact we made with the Australian navy on the third day was with one of these Zodiac skiffs that came in and dropped off some jam and water and life vests and declined, by the way, to remove the pregnant woman who was in really bad condition, or any of the other sick people. And then they left. They said we had to keep going. And they -- I don't know where they went. But we lost sight of them after a couple hours. And then a few hours later another boat came and boarded our boat. And a naval officer took control of the vessel and noticed Joel's camera, because he was photographing the whole thing. And at that point we had to identify ourselves. And they were pretty surprised, and separated us from everybody else and put us in the stern. So, it was weird. We never really got to talk to the asylum seekers after that because they kept us sequestered from them up until we actually arrived at the island and everyone was taken off the boat and conveyed by a barge to the port where all the immigration officials were waiting, and police. And police and immigration officials were also waiting for us. So, yeah, that was it. They interviewed us and let us go. We had -- I should say we had visas. We had previously applied for visas to enter Australia. So legally, I guess, we were covered there. And, yeah. That was it. So everyone on the boat was taken to a detention center and we went to a hotel. >> Okay. I think we're looking at our last question. And we've had a couple questions about policy of the United States. So we're looking at one here. And this is for the whole panel. Given some of the challenges of the United States has faced at the Mexican border with refugees coming from Central America, from Mexico, the question's about security. What are the panel members' thoughts on how we are dealing with that situation and recommendations besides building up the border to keep people out. What would be some of the suggestions to deal with some of the security issues at our borders, the American borders, today? >> Well, let me start by saying that security is -- considerations about security are built into refugee law internationally and also into domestic asylum law because there's an enumerated list of things that can bar you from receiving asylum in this country or other forms of status. And they include not only if you've been firmly resettled in another country or if your previous asylum application has been denied and conditions haven't changed demonstrably in your host country, but also a whole bunch of security-related criteria. If you're a member of a designated terrorist organization, if you've committed a felony in the US, if there are indicia that you'd be a threat to national security, then you wouldn't be eligible for protection. And so, given the fact that this is already built into the system, there's no reason in my mind to believe that you couldn't have a very, let's say a welcoming policy with respect to asylum and treatment of refugees that wouldn't also be designed to account for these kinds of security conditions. Now, of course, there are other questions that people might ask about national security and its nexus to movements of asylum seekers that go beyond the sort of individual effects of applications that have more to do with whether there's a surge of people and the US isn't prepared to handle it administratively. I think that when we look at the numbers that we've seen to date, I don't want to say that that could never become a problem, but the numbers we're talking about to date, I think, are very much within the means of the US government to be able to handle. We're talking about, with respect to the recent migration of youths from Central America, something on the order of 63,000 arrivals. That's a lot, but it's not an order of magnitude above what the United States is used to processing. And in fact, even in the absence of Congressional action, there are some monies that the executive can move around probably to be able to address that. So when I see the security concerns raised in connection with these types of determinations, I'm skeptical of how much that they necessarily would change the approach that needs to be taken. >> I think it's worth adding something. The Knight Wallace fellows recently went to Turkey. And although we couldn't visit the border because the State Department had ruled it off limits for US travel, we did hear a lot about it. And the Turks are now providing a really quite amazing accommodations for several hundred thousand refugees. Nobody knows how long it will go on. But it goes sort of unremarked in the generally dispiriting situation among refugees. Do you have familiarity with that one, either of you? >> Me? >> No, I'm really talking to John. >> Well, with the Turkish situation. Is that what you're saying? >> Yes. >> Well, a light familiarity, sufficient enough to know that actually Turkey has changed a lot of its laws to basically -- it is running the camps themselves. They're not having the United Nations run them. And it's been a big burden and they're very disappointed that the world has not ponied up money to help them. But actually it has not been a disruptive, relatively speaking, it has not been a disruptive situation. There are lots of arrangements in the world where there are open borders, porous borders. The EU countries have decided to not really monitor their borders inside the EU. And that works okay. We don't pay nearly as much attention to that northern border as we do to the southern border. And so, my quick answer to the question is it's very much a political issue. It's not really a security issue. It's not a hard and fast security threat that we need to be facing. It's a veil for some other kinds of concerns, I think. >>Yeah, I was just going to add that. I mean, post-Patriot Act asylum policies and procedures have become so xenophobic that we don't even allow people who work for the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan to come to the US in many cases. I mean, these are -- so it's not just central Asians and Middle Easterners who could potentially maybe some time pose some threat to national security. I mean, it's many people who demonstrably have increased our national security and work for our national security that are also having trouble getting to the US. >> Well, unfortunately, we are out of time. I wanted to thank all of you for joining us. I hope you will stay and continue the conversation. We have a reception just outside at the great hall. And so if you would join me in thanking our panel, and especially Luke Mogelson. Thank you. That was really fabulous. [ Applause ]