Snedden lecture illuminates refugee crisis

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A member of the audience asked if it was safe to give donations to Red Crescent, the contemporary of the Red Cross which operates in the Middle East. They expressed concerns about ending up on a government “list.” In response, Parvaz shrugged and said “I’m probably on a list, don’t ask me.” Kael Knight/ Sun Star Photo credit: Kael Knight


The world is in the midst of the most dire refugee crisis since World War II, with over 71 million people displaced, and yet reliable information is not easy to procure. Over half of those refugees are children, some of whom have no adults accompanying them.

Dorothy Parvaz, a journalist from the news organization Al Jazeera, discussed the crisis and her experiences covering it in a lecture Feb. 23. Parvas has covered numerous stories of migrants, refugees and the issues facing them, and has described some of the horrific ordeals those people endure in their search for safety.

Parvaz stressed that some countries don’t give citizens necessary paperwork to enter other countries lawfully and Americans might view as a suspicious lack of documentation is a fact of life in many countries. Palestinian travel documents, for example, aren’t accepted anywhere, because Palestine has yet to be recognized as a formal country. For many migrants fleeing violence, this leads to desperation.

“If there was a sane process [for immigration] nobody would be doing this, nobody would be jumping into the Mediterranean or crawling over fences through barbed wire,” Parvaz said.

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Dorothy Parvaz covered the Syrian Civil War from its beginning in 2012, when she was arrested and taken to a secret prison facility outside of Damascus. Her crime: possessing a satellite phone. She was held for three days by the Syrians and then was deported to Iraq, her birth country, where she was held for almost 3 weeks. Kael Knight/ Sun Star Photo credit: Kael Knight


She also drew attention to was the island prisons, Manus and Nauru, where Australia is sending refugees. The horrible conditions inside the prisons have recently come to light and Australia is now trying to shut the prisons down.

“I feel compelled to tell stories,” Parvaz said. “[I am] trying to bring the world closer, to bring people closer, to make you understand that we’re not that different.”

She related her belief that most of the world’s problems can be solved with empathy.

“No one has ever said ‘Oh, we came to a horrible decision because we knew each other too well,’” Parvaz said.

Born in Iraq, Parvaz and her family immigrated to Canada at the age of 13. Later in life Parvas took a position teaching English in Japan. While in Japan she landed a job at an English-language daily paper called The Asahi Shimbun. Parvaz has been in journalism ever since, working her way from temp to editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer until the paper went online-only in 2009. She then worked as a freelancer in London for a year before joining the Qatari news organization Al Jazeera.

Parvaz says she found it exciting to be part of a news organization that was expanding instead of shrinking. She also expressed her appreciation for the way Al Jazeera handles stories on the Middle East, which differ greatly from what she called a “colonial” way of reporting.

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A student camera crew films Dorothy Parvaz’s Lecture Thursday night. Dorothy Parvaz told several stories in her lectures about refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and their hardships trying to escape violence. She has covered several of these stories for Al Jazeera. Kael Knight/ Sun Star Photo credit: Kael Knight


There best ways to help refugees, Parvaz said, are to support aid organizations, such as the Red Cross, the Red Crescent and UN, all of which provide medical assistance to refugees and migrants from all over the globe. She also said interested citizens should pressure their governments for more compassionate immigration policies.

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