UW Philosophers Talk About the Migration Crisis

Submitted by Kate Goldyn on

This fall quarter the Philosophy Department hosted a series of discussion groups about the Syrian migration crisis.  Our response to the ongoing crisis in Syria and many other places in the world has many dimensions.  One of the crucial questions is the nature and extent of our ethical obligation to help people in need.  Philosophers in our department spend a lot of time thinking about this question and wanted to provide a stimulating discussion for our community of students, faculty, staff and alumni to discuss the various aspects.

The first discussion, led by Professor Bill Talbott, discussed human rights.  Bill focused on what it means to have a human right to asylum, and what is this a right to. He discussed the history of the granting of refugee status by the UN after World War II and asked if this status should just be for those with a direct threat to their lives or for families whose neighborhoods were being bombed.  He also led the discussion of what the US should be doing to secure the right for asylum seekers from the Middle East. Listen to the complete podcast of the discussion here.

The second discussion was led by Professor Michael Blake on the topic of justice.  He led the session with a discussion of closed and open borders and asked is it always unjust for a country to keep out those who would prefer to enter that country?  How do we identify who the people are who have a right to enter? Listen to the complete podcast of the discussion here.

Professor Colin Marshall led the third discussion on compassion. He started by asking if we can feel compassion for millions of people. He then reflected on the question, should we feel compassion for the refugees?  Listen to the complete podcast of the discussion here.

Professor Michael Rosenthal led the discussion on religion. He directed the group in exploring if religion and culture are relevant to our decisions about helping refugees and our immigration policy.  Listen to the complete podcast of the discussion here.

The fifth discussion was led by Lecturer Lauren Hartzell Nichols and PhD candidate Alex Lenferna who discussed how climate change created the five year drought in Syria, which is the foundation of the current problems there.  They examined how climate justice is relevant for immigration policy and if it should be part of the consideration of responsibility to help refugees. Listen to the complete podcast of the discussion here.

The final discussion was led by Professors Carina Fourie and Sara Goering on health.  They framed the discussion with what little health care is currently available in Syria and what the health care needs of refugees are – ranging from the long-term need for diabetes care and chemotherapy to immediate needs, such as burn and wound treatment and maternity care. They examined concerns such as the disparities in health care between the refugees and the local populations and who is obliged to pay for the costs of providing health care for refugees. Listen to the complete podcast of the discussion here.

Thank you to all who came to our discussion series and those who listened to the podcasts. The refugee crisis is ongoing, and while it is important to have these meaningful discussions to fully understand what is happening and why, it is also important to follow this with meaningful action.  As mentioned at the end of each session, we created a sheet with ways you can help with the Syrian migrant crisis by volunteering, donating, and staying involved.

Ways You Can Help with the Syrian Migrant Crisis


The US refugee charity, the International Rescue Committee, has opportunities to volunteer at all of its 22 offices including in Seattle. Roles include mentoring refugee families and helping refugees find jobs.

http://www.rescue.org/us-program/us-seattle-wa    www.rescue.org/Help-Refugees

Relief & Reconciliation for Syria has short and long-term volunteer opportunities abroad:



Doctors without Borders www.doctorswithoutborders.org/Donate

OxFam https://www.oxfam.org/en/emergencies/crisis-syria

MOAS: Migrant Offshore Aid Station http://www.moas.eu/

Aylan Kurdi Fund: A specific fund named in honor of a Syrian boy who drowned while fleeing Syria was set up within 24 hours of the circulation of photographs of his body. All proceeds will go to the humanitarian agency Hand in Hand for Syria.  http://aylankurdi.com/2015/09/03/aylankurdi/

Unicef:  http://www.unicefusa.org/mission/emergencies/child-refugees/syria-crisis

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the White House have partnered with crowdfunding website Kickstarter to help raise desperately needed funds. https://www.kickstarter.com/aidrefugees?ref=hero

More ways to help from The UN Refugee Agency website: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c344.html

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