Today is United Nations International Day of Peace, a day in our harried lives in which we are literally asked to pause for a minute at noon to ponder the notion of peace. Since 1981, communities around the world have used this day to highlight the need to rise above our differences and focus on creating a world without war, fear, or prejudice. For many in the NAFSA community, the work of international education is devoted to exactly that: creating the space for intercultural dialogue and understanding, recognizing that our community extends beyond our borders, and welcoming those who have different ideas and experiences into our lives.
This year’s theme, "Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All," focuses on the necessity of coming together to welcome and support refugees and migrants driven from their homes by conflict, persecution, natural disaster, or other forces beyond their control. The emphasis on refugees is particularly important this year, as there are numerous reports that President Trump may shortly announce a drastic reduction in refugee admissions for 2018. NAFSA has reiterated its commitment to welcoming refugees; our executive director and CEO Dr. Esther Brimmer recently called on the Trump administration to continue to welcome as many as 100,000 refugees annually.
Unfortunately, those advocating for a reduction in refugee admissions claim that the United States cannot afford to absorb refugees. But as a suppressed report from the Department of Health and Human Services demonstrates, the long-term economic impact of refugees is positive. Similarly, many reports, including a recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study, reiterates that a generous immigration system that offers more visas and opportunities for legal entry allows for more robust and sustained economic growth.
Peace comes when there is shared responsibility and mutual respect.
International Day of Peace reminds us that the refugee crisis facing the world can never be evaluated solely in terms of dollars and cents. Peace comes when there is shared responsibility and mutual respect. Refusing to help others in need translates into turning our back on the world—and turning our back on peace.
Even the quality of our debate over the refugee issue is a symptom of the highly divisive character of our political rhetoric. Reaching peaceful solutions and compromises cannot occur when conflict rather than dialogue is the defining characteristic of our interactions. Again, NAFSA has long recognized this, exploring the dynamics of peace building through conflict resolution in our NAFSA Seminars on Peace and Global Civil Society. Exploring these questions with our extended community allows us to use our skills to promote dialogue and change within our communities.
So, on this day of peace, reflect, educate, and advocate. Take a moment to think about how your work contributes to the broader quest for peace; consider joining us at the NAFSA USIP Symposium on International Education, Diplomacy, and Peace in Washington, D.C., on November 16, 2017, or at the NAFSA Seminar on Peace and Global Civil Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 27-28, 2018; and use your voice to stand up for the refugees in our midst as well as those we should welcome in the future.
Mary Giovagnoli is the senior director for public policy at NAFSA: Association of International Educators.