Panel discussion of refugee displacement held at MTSU

Photo and story by Rayyan Ahmed / Contributing Writer

A panel of three professionals spoke about the growing issue of refugee displacement Tuesday in the Business and Aerospace State Farm Room on campus. The panel included James Chaney, a representative of MTSU’s Global Studies Department, Abdi Mohamed, a member of the Metro Human Relations Commission in Nashville and Phoebe Castelblanco, a UNICEF Nashville fellow.

“We mean the refugees that have been displaced, not the usual refugees,” Castelblanco said. “(These are) the people with no identification, no money and nowhere to go. They are put in camps and unable to get processed into a country and are stuck there. They are the most vulnerable group out there.”

This kind of vulnerability leaves refugees open to all sorts of misfortune and exploitation. The most prominent form of exploitation is human trafficking, according to Castelblanco. Children are especially vulnerable, she said. They don’t speak the language of the country they are in, and they are without both parents at their side.

“Whenever there is an extreme crisis such as this one, who do you think is the first one on the ground?” Castelblanco asked. “Non-governmental organizations? The government? It’s neither. Human traffickers are the first ones there.”

According to Castelblanco, the leading countries that take in refugees are Pakistan, Turkey and Lebanon, and these countries take in more than half of the refugees in the world. She explained that these are not fully developed countries. Therefore, they don’t usually have all the resources and infrastructure to accommodate all the refugees, but they still take them in. Meanwhile, Castelblanco said, America has only taken in 11 Syrian refugees this year. Overall, the country has accepted 1 percent of the world’s refugees, and that percentage is slowly declining, according to Castelblanco.

During the panel discussion, Mohammed, who is a refugee from Somalia, was asked how refugees are perceived in Nashville.

“There are many people out working and helping refugees,” Mohammed said. “They’re enrolling the children in schools and helping people find jobs. However, when one person says something or does something negative, that’s all the media focuses on.”

To contact News Editor Andrew Wigdor, email

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