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June 09, 2021

Refugees and the fight against populism

S2 E12 38 MINS

Violence, unrest and the coronavirus pandemic have displaced an unprecedented number of people globally. Yet instead of offering shelter to refugees, many countries use populist rhetoric to excuse their global responsibility and reject those in need.

In the final episode of season two of Course Correction, host Nelufar Hedayat speaks with refugee advocates David Miliband and Melanie Nezer, as well as Gillian Triggs, the assistant high commissioner for protection in the office of the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Nelufar talks to each of them about what can be done to change hearts, minds and government policies. For the final challenging conversation, she speaks with Boston College political science professor Peter Skerry, who argues that poor leadership has exacerbated the problem.

Full transcript

Note: We encourage you to listen to the audio if you are able, as it includes emotion not captured by the transcript. Please check the corresponding audio before using any quotes.

[PERCUSSIVE MUSIC]

NELUFAR HEDAYAT, HOST:
This is Course Correction, a podcast from Doha Debates. I’m Nelufar Hedayat, and this season we’ve been focusing on polarization. In each episode, I’ve explored a topic that’s been dividing us. I’ve talked to people with a range of perspectives on an issue, and I’ve tried to challenge myself to understand positions that aren’t necessarily comfortable for me. And in this, the final episode of season two, we’re going to explore a topic that’s really personal for me: refugees. Specifically, we’re asking: Are wealthier nations meeting the moment and fulfilling their duty to take responsibility for those displaced by war, violence or other extreme circumstances? Later on in the episode, I’ll speak with a professor who’s concerned by bad refugee policy.

MAN WITH AMERICAN ACCENT:
These are human populations that once they’re here, settled in this country, for example, or the U.K. or wherever, can move about and ought to be able to move about. But then that creates second- and third-order challenges, again for social services, for schools, for hospitals. Language issues come up, cultural clashes occur.

NELUFAR: Plus, we’ll hear from the United Nations Refugee Agency’s assistant high commissioner for protection on why our entire perception of who’s carrying that burden is skewed.

WOMAN WITH AUSTRALIAN ACCENT:
For this year, 2021, we’ve had something in the order of 26,000 people moving across the Mediterranean seeking protection in Europe. And yet much of the discussion in Europe is as though they were subject to an invasion.

[PERCUSSIVE MUSIC]

NELUFAR: But first, some background. I came to the U.K. when I was 7. In the first episode, of Course Correction season one, I sat down with my mum to find out for the first time what actually happened when we became refugees. It is still the most difficult interview I have ever done. My mum told me the story of what happened to us, how at the age of 2 she moved me to Pakistan to escape the fighting in our homeland of Afghanistan. But even when we were in Pakistan, I wasn’t allowed to go to school. After a failed smuggling attempt, we ended up back in Afghanistan where I was born.

Then the turning point. I was 5 years old on a bus with my parents to the north of the country. The north was meant to be relatively quiet and safer, but we ended up at the scene of a massacre. There were bodies without heads on the streets. I can still picture it sometimes.

ARCHIVAL AUDIO OF NELUFAR: I remember the sound of the rockets. I remember the feeling of shaking earth. I remember you always holding me very tight over my mouth, and you under a burqa.

ARCHIVAL AUDIO OF NELUFAR’S MOTHER, PATUNI: I sometimes had to put my hand in your mouth because of the bombs.

NELUFAR: Yeah, I remember that. I remember that. I remember.

NELUFAR: After that, my mum Patuni knew that war would not end. She went to the smugglers to take my family from Afghanistan to Dubai to Germany. But the smuggler lied. They took the Hedayat family to London. Yeah, I’m British on accident. I was 7 years old when we arrived at Heathrow Airport. Me and my sister were given a packet of crisps by the staff. The government gave us a home. We were welcomed by our neighbors. After we’d spoken about our story, I thanked my mum for all that she had done for me, for us, for bringing me and my family to safety where I could have a normal life. She said this.

ARCHIVAL AUDIO OF PATUNI: The thing that I’m thinking right now is other people, other refugees. The hundred thousand people have the same story that you asked me to tell you from past. They are in the present. They have these stories in the present. They are, they don’t have their dads. Their dads are in jail, children like you, one year to year, four years, woman like me is struggling to protect and feed their children, to take them to safety, hundreds of women like me on the boats. Why does it happen, Nelufar? The first thing that I am asking you is why people have to leave their countries? Why?

NELUFAR: Why indeed. There are a number of reasons why people become refugees, like unbearable circumstances none of them asked to be in. The real why we’re exploring today is why has helping those in need become so polarized? Why are politicians from some of the wealthiest nations on Earth saying there’s no room left for refugees, when clearly that is not the case? And why are refugees being scapegoated for hostile immigration policies?

[PERCUSSIVE MUSIC]

But first, 12-year-old me was living her best life in London, going to a nearby secondary school called Haverstock Hill. It was a local comprehensive, which means a free school funded by the state with a whole mix of people from different backgrounds. It was a good school. The teachers were amazing. I was, as you would expect, head of my year group student council. And as such, one day I had the privilege of being in a press shoot when one of the most famous alumnus came back to visit our school.

DAVID MILIBAND:
I do remember coming back as Schools Minister. That must have been in the early 2000s. So 2002, ’03, ’04…

NELUFAR: That is David Miliband. And at the time, Schools Minister was just the first step in his rapid ascension through the ranks of the British Labour Party. By 2007, he had been appointed British foreign secretary.

I have a vivid memory of meeting him in the school garden. I thought to myself, “If this guy who went here can make it all the way to Parliament, then the sky’s the limit for me.” But there’s something else that connected us. David Miliband, like me, comes from a family of refugees. For his family, it was the Holocaust.

DAVID: You know, my dad was a refugee from Belgium in 1940. He came when the Germans invaded Belgium, a Jewish family. He came with his dad. His mum and his sister were left in Belgium. They ended up being called in 1942 to go to a concentration camp. And they, my grandmother, refused to go and went into hiding with her daughter. My mum was a refugee from Poland. She came at the age of 12 in 1946 on her own. She was put on a boat by her mother. She’d lost her father in a concentration camp. And so I was born in 1965. And so they gave me security that they didn’t have.

NELUFAR: David’s family history is partly what guides and motivates his work. After Labour lost power in 2010, he decided to enter into the realm of international development and focus on helping refugees. He became the head of the International Rescue Committee, a New York-based organization founded at the request of Albert Einstein himself, that for more than 100 years has been focused on helping refugees on both a political and personal level.

DAVID: There are 35 million refugees and asylum seekers around the world today, and 45 million people who are refugees within their own country, the internally displaced. So that’s 80 million stories, and they’re stories of the baker from Damascus was bombed from his house, they’re the story of the community in the Central African Republic that is chased from their village, they’re the story of the family in Rakhine state in Myanmar, the family of Rohingya who are driven into Bangladesh. Those are individual stories. We can’t, quote unquote, “control the political narrative.” But we can inject the human dimension. I think that’s important. I mean, in the NGO, you, you work one person at a time, really one family at a time. And in politics, you work from the bird’s eye. And I think we’ve got to try and contribute to the human scale.

NELUFAR: On the International Rescue Committee’s YouTube page, there are countless stories from refugees who talk about their aspirations for a better life.

ARCHIVAL IRC AUDIO:
I am a student at the University of Baltimore. I am studying entrepreneurship and I want to become a fashion designer and have my own clothing line.

ARCHIVAL IRC AUDIO:
I want to show the people different side. I’m Muslim and American citizens don’t look just —

ARCHIVAL IRC AUDIO:
My dreams are to help people deprived from their basic human rights and democracy.

NELUFAR: These people all want the same opportunities I was given back at Haverstock School, which is to have the freedom to dream big, to not be forever defined by the tragic and traumatic circumstances that forced us to flee our homeland. But over the last few years, the plight of refugees has been conflated with broader immigration policy. It’s something David says is a big problem.

DAVID: My experience in the U.K. and elsewhere is that when issues of immigration and issues of refugees get confused, it’s not good for immigrants and it’s not good for refugees and it’s not good for the host country. Because although both immigration and refugees involve people moving, there’s a big difference between someone who chooses to live in another country and does so in relatively comfortable circumstances and moves and comes through, makes an application, and someone who’s running for their life, not moving for a better life.

NELUFAR: This modeling of refugee policy with immigration policy is something that has had devastating effects, especially in the United States, where David now lives.

DAVID: Because there hasn’t been an immigration bill since 1986. There are 11 million undocumented people in the U.S., and former President Trump made a thing of saying, “Well, we’ve got 11 million undocumented. We don’t need another 80,000 refugees to come in. So we’re going to reduce the number of refugees who are allowed in,” even though they come under different rules with different regulations.

NELUFAR: Vitriol against refugees is real, and left unchecked, it can threaten lives. I know I’ve been told that I was unwanted or that I should go back to where I’ve come from. David has seen similar things.

DAVID: I gave a talk in the West Coast of the U.S., and this woman came up to me afterwards in floods of tears. She was a Vietnamese woman, and she said, “I’m crying because my parents came here as refugees in the 1970s and they never wanted anyone to know that they were refugees.” And she said, “I think that’s one of the reasons why there’s a backlash against refugees today, because we didn’t explain ourselves,” and she was saying, “I’m going to try and explain what it means.” And I thought that was a good point.

[PERCUSSIVE MUSIC]

NELUFAR: So how do we move past this us-and-them mentality? Well, one thing that helps is to get the facts straight. We often hear refugees are stealing jobs or are a burden to the economy, but the numbers tell a completely different story that just isn’t getting heard as much as the lie. A 2018 study published in the journal Science Advances analyzed 30 years of data from across Western Europe. It found irrefutable evidence that asylum seekers have a positive impact on the economy.
Overwhelmingly, within five years of a spike in immigration, GDP went up and unemployment went down, despite concerns that the opposite would happen. As a refugee and a taxpaying citizen, it angers me no end to know that the truth about us is flipped on its head, dunked in a dip of toxic falsehoods, served up on blogs, splashed across newspapers and embedded in the stump speeches of hate-mongering politicians around the world. Rant over.

Our next guest, Melanie Nezer, is equally as outraged. Like David Miliband, she works at an organization dedicated to improving the lives of refugees. Melanie is a senior vice president for public affairs at HIAS.

MELANIE NEZER:
HIAS is over 100 years old. We were a Jewish organization that helped Jewish refugees. Here we are over a hundred years later, and we think that the work is pretty much the same. Of course, how we do it is very different because the world is so different and the people we serve are almost all not Jewish. We serve refugees around the world. We’re in 16 different countries. We know how they just want to kind of start their lives in safety and peace again. So we help them do that.

NELUFAR: I wanted to speak to her specifically about how this false story, this toxic narrative came to be. Carrying out HIAS’s mission became a lot more difficult during former President Donald Trump’s term in office, where limits for refugees were dramatically lowered. While the current U.S. president, Joe Biden, has raised limits, there’s still a concern that places like the U.S. and Western Europe could do and should do more to shoulder the responsibility of the refugee crisis.

NEWS CLIP OF MALE ANCHOR SPEAKING:
From President Biden, a major policy reversal for the White House, announcing it will allow more refugees into the U.S., capping the total admitted at roughly 62,000 this year. Still, President Biden concedes the quote “sad truth” is that we will not achieve that target for admissions this year, blaming what he calls “damage” former President Trump did to the program.

NEWS CLIP OF MALE ANCHOR SPEAKING:
In June, the French government quietly closed its border with Italy to those seeking asylum in France.

NEWS CLIP OF MALE ANCHOR SPEAKING:
Hundreds of people have rallied this week in front of the Danish parliament in support of asylum seekers after Denmark became the first European country to start revoking the residence permits of some Syrian refugees.

NELUFAR: According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, there are 18 million displaced people around the world today. These numbers reflect political unrest as well as destabilization caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But Melanie told me, as the need for more assistance has surged, so has the partisan rhetoric.

MELANIE: There’s definitely hate out there, but there’s also ignorance, and ignorance we can address. So a lot of what we find is helpful is, you know, just exposing people to refugees, because people who have refugees as neighbors, people who are part of groups that welcome and resettle refugees, and there are many in this country across religious and political lines, feel differently.

But part of that is just creating opportunities for people to know each other. And I know that sounds a little Pollyanna-ish, but if you look at what’s happening in the world, the more we separate ourselves from the other, the more dangerous it is. So it’s tough. Emotions are high and it’s tough.

NELUFAR: But I love what you said there, that there is hope. You and I, we understand that at the core of it there is goodness in all people. This is why we accept refugees, because we know whatever and whoever they are, they deserve our compassion first. Unfortunately, the way that the media works, the way that the narrative has gone, the way that the tabloids blow things up — that’s been lost. And the only time we ever hear about refugees is when their children are dying on our beaches. How do we make that the horror that it is? How can we work to try and present that as something that’s happening on our watch? What else can we do apart from try and meet things with compassion?

MELANIE: I really wish that people would understand that this is a moment in people’s lives, and we all have moments in our lives where we need assistance, we need compassion, we need a helping hand. It doesn’t define a person if they’re displaced. So I wish we could see refugees over the arc of time and arc of their lives and not just for that moment.

Speaking of compassion, I just wish that countries and people wouldn’t think compassion was a sign of weakness, you know. Compassion is a kind of strength. It’s been kind of demonized. Oh, you bleeding heart. You know, you don’t know the reality. You don’t know — you don’t care about keeping us safe. But compassion actually comes from strength. And all of those other things come from fear, which to me is a weakness. So I wish we could recast our attitude towards helping people seeking refuge as a sign of strength, as a sign of recognizing the humanity in everybody and everyone’s potential.

NELUFAR: Oftentimes, those of us who are trying to protect, defend and look after refugees, we’re always on the defensive, Melanie. Right? Like, we’re always like, no, this isn’t true or that, this is wrong. This is true. How can we draw the line on our terms? So we’re not always defending ourselves.

MELANIE: I mean, that will take a major shift. And we’ve been there before. I mean, in this country, in the United States, refugee resettlement was a bipartisan issue for many decades. We had a broad consensus that welcoming refugees was what we did as a country because we were founded by refugees, and it was much more of a commonly held belief and much less politicized than it is now. So I think we could get back to that. Welcoming refugees does seem to be something that could be recognized as a fundamental American value. This is something that we do.

If we started from that kind of national consensus, it would be easier to have a debate about what’s the right number, what is, what’s the right level of resources, how much do we spend in humanitarian aid overseas versus refugee humanitarian aid in the United States. Those conversations would be a lot easier if this issue didn’t become so politicized. And it’s just sad that this is a politicized issue. You know, this is an issue that is just so fundamentally human. So our job, I think, is to get it back to that. The mainstream really could be brought back to a place where this is a national consensus.

NELUFAR: Melanie Nezer of HIAS, thank you so much for talking to me.

MELANIE: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure meeting you.

[STRING MUSIC]

NELUFAR: So is the issue lost compassion, lost humanity, or is it that some people are fed up with bad policy that’s too generous or while maybe well intentioned, isn’t thought out properly? For our challenging interview today, we’ve invited Peter Skerry. He’s a professor of political science at Boston College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

He’s someone who, like our other guests, believes strongly that every human should be treated with respect and dignity. The crux of his argument is that there’s been too much conflation of migrants with refugees, especially in the U.S.

PETER SKERRY:
The calculus, if you will, the trade-offs of benefits and costs for refugees, ought to be different than the trade-off for migrants or immigrants who have choices, presumably, OK? I think that I would argue that if we’re talking about refugees, people who are fleeing circumstances where they’re fleeing for their lives and their families’ safety, well, the benefits to the receiving country aren’t the first priority. The first priority is helping provide for those seeking refuge.

NELUFAR: What does that kind of like influx do?

PETER: Well, it can overwhelm schools and social service agencies. Now, as soon as I say that, I’ll tell you that refugee settlement agencies and the government agencies that fund them and oversee them do their best to try to moderate those impacts. They try to disperse populations. That’s how the Hmong wound up in the middle of the state of Maine, where I can assure you, no other Hmong was around to help them. They got dispersed there because the idea is to scatter the refugees around and to minimize their impact in one place.

But people, once they’re here, either stay in place and struggle like the Hmong did, because it wasn’t clear how they were going to be received, what they could do for a living and so forth, or they pick up and move like many Cubans have moved back to Florida after having been settled somewhere else, or how many Vietnamese have moved back to Southern California after having been dispersed. But then that creates second- and third-order challenges, again for social services, for schools, for hospitals. Language issues come up, cultural clashes occur. And I’ll be the first to tell you that many of those kinds of issues, especially when I say cultural clashes, reflect, you know, not very positive feelings among Americans in the receiving communities.

Language issues create problems. If you live next door to me and you can’t speak English, I could react negatively to that. I wouldn’t, I can speak other languages. But if I’m a blue collar worker, I got enough problems, Mac, what do I have to learn your language for? I don’t think those people are racist or not racist. I think there’s a continuum.

NELUFAR: They’re a little bit racist. [LAUGHS]

PETER: They have, you know, people have negative attitudes that they’ll pull upon, and they’ll draw on when the circumstances seem to fit. And that’s not to excuse it at all. But, you know, that’s, I think, how the dynamic works. And if you’re feeling like your own countrymen, your own Americans, your leaders are paying more attention to people, to foreigners, than to you, and you feel like you’re struggling, and your level of standard of living has been declining, as it has been for so many Americans over the last several decades, you start getting pretty angry. And you get angry at the people in charge, the elites, but you also get, you get angry at the people who are being imposed upon you in this worldview.

NELUFAR: Of course, in recent years, we’ve witnessed one of the greatest examples of a European country opening its doors to refugees. Back in 2015, Chancellor Angela Merkel made a dramatic decision to allow in nearly a million refugees, many of whom were fleeing the violence of the Syrian civil war.

NEWS CLIP WITH MALE ANCHOR SPEAKING:
Queues in Berlin as migrants wait to fill in forms and be processed in a bid to be accepted as asylum seekers. Now the government is set to announce how and where transit zones will be established. The aim is to help authorities cope with the huge numbers and to decide who should remain in Germany.

NELUFAR: While Merkel at first faced fierce political blows for this, she maintained her hold on power and it appears now, six years later, that she remains popular. Still, I wanted to know from Peter Skerry, with the benefit of hindsight, what did he feel Merkel got right? And what did she get wrong with her policy?

PETER: If we want to find what was, you know, admirable in what she did, she reminded Germans that it’s not enough simply to be a democracy that’s economically successful. But you also have to play a role on the world stage, responding to the large numbers of people who are at risk and seeking refuge. So on that dimension, I think she was very on target and successful. But where she had a problem, obviously, and where she fell down, I think, is that she acted rather unilaterally in terms of cooperating with other members of the European Union. And she underestimated the impact of what she was saying and how many people would come.

And it’s also worth pointing out — this gets back to the distinction between migrants and refugees — because it’s, this is a you know, this is, this is life, right? This is the dynamic. This doesn’t just sort of sit still. No one walks around with a sign “refugee” on their back or “immigrant” on their back. Context matters here. So when she said that Germany would accept those that were seeking refuge, what she did was not only open Germany up to the influxes who were proximate to her borders, but there were those Syrians, for example, and other people in Turkey who were biding their time in Turkey as refugees, fleeing violence and so forth in Syria.

And then suddenly when Angela Merkel decides that she’s going to let people into Germany, refugees into Germany, well suddenly a lot of people who are settled, shall we say, in refugee situations, not permanently in Turkey, decided they were going to move to Germany. And many of those, by the way, were young males because the families sent their young males out because the young males would fare better than young women, presumably. And that increased the numbers of people entering Germany. Her unilateral action without coordination with her allies effectively made the problem worse because it transformed many refugees into —

NELUFAR: But did she do the right thing?

PETER: Well, that’s hard to say, I think…

NELUFAR: Do you think, Peter, that she did the right thing?

PETER: Well, I guess I’d ask you to tell me what’s the “right” thing? How do you define right? The right thing morally?

NELUFAR: I don’t know. But I’m intrigued to see how you answer this.

PETER: OK. Um… No, I don’t think she did. I think she should have coordinated her efforts more carefully with her E.U. colleagues, and proceeded with more deliberation.

NELUFAR: Thank you so much for your time, Peter. That was interesting and illuminating.

PETER: OK, well I enjoyed talking to you.

NELUFAR: Peter Skerry is a professor of political science at Boston College and nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

For our final interview today, I wanted to take a step back and take a more holistic view at how the issue of refugees became a crisis, and how it’s led to polarized beliefs on the value of refugees and the onus of wealthy countries to do more to relieve the burden overwhelmingly shouldered by the global south. For that, we’ve turned to Gillian Triggs. She’s the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection at the United Nations Refugee Agency. An Australian academic, Triggs’ expertise is public international law.

NELUFAR: I could see why some people would describe me as a burden when I came to the U.K. because I didn’t speak the language. I was getting a free education. I was living in subsidized housing. I was taking a position or some resources that a kid from Birmingham could have had.

GILLIAN TRIGGS:
Well, I’m waging a personal battle against binary positions. In other words, one or the other. It’s not one or the other. The child in Birmingham, of course, can have education and subsidized housing. We can do both. And I think that is something that we have to understand.

But can I also say that it’s fairly common and I’m very conscious of this having just come back from Bangladesh, that when they when the emergency first arises — burning, looting, raping, forcing another 800,000 people to leave Myanmar for Bangladesh, the initial reaction by the people of Bangladesh was very hospitable. They raised money. People from the north of Bangladesh brought gifts and rice and support. So the initial reaction to an emergency is often hospitable.
But over time, because in these last 20 years, we’re seeing conflicts being prolonged without end, it becomes a burden. And whereas I prefer to use the word “responsibility,” it’s seen increasingly as a burden. And we get to the kind of polarized debate that you’ve just described.

NELUFAR: I want to kind of talk about this group of people that I think is lost in the conversation, a group that I’ve tried to reach out to many times in my career and my life and I find it difficult to. These are not the right-wing populist sort of ethno-state driven, “make it what it was again” type of people. These are the people who are much closer to the center of politics, but who look at immigration and look at the burden and think, “Well, there’s only so much we can take, how much is enough?” And I don’t know how to answer that question.

GILLIAN: Yes. Well, you’re right that the people that we need to persuade or to influence are around the sensible middle. They have reasonably open minds. And of course, it is very troubling that that sensible middle is increasingly asking the question that you’ve asked. In other words, how much more can we be required to do? But may I say that that sensible middle perhaps doesn’t understand that the challenge that they’re facing is tiny relative to where the problems lie.

In other words, if we’re talking of a sensible middle in Europe or North America, the numbers are small. I think this, for this year, 2021, we’ve had something in the order of 26,000 people moving across the Mediterranean seeking protection in Europe. And yet much of the discussion in Europe is as though they were subject to an invasion. That is absolutely a manageable number.

But I think in the end, and I come back to this over and over again, it comes down to leadership. When you have leaders in some countries of Europe that are putting out the negative stories, then I think, then it’s exceptionally difficult to move past that. If you can get a leader like Angela Merkel, that is absolutely inspirational. We need leaders like her. We need more people like her to stand up for what we know is right, to stand up for the integrity of the global system, recognizing that we do need in the northern hemisphere to invest more in root causes.

NELUFAR: In the face of like this populist rhetoric, what do you say to them to help them be like, “Actually know what? You can do this and you can do a little bit more. Don’t worry about what the newspapers say. Don’t worry about what the opposition says. This is what matters.” What do you tell them? I mean, really, like the substance of it.

GILLIAN: Well, I think that, of course, in any diplomatic exchange, of course you recognize what the country is doing that’s positive, but you then have to move to the reality that the governments are — under the government’s eye — boats are being pushed back to sea, you are risking lives, and people are held in detention, including children, indefinitely.

And so our job is to be clear but courteous about what these breaches of their international obligations are. And almost all ministers will say, “We will always abide by our international responsibilities.” So then you get down, of course, to a question of facts, and we can say, well, these are the facts. A refugee, a recognized refugee, cannot get a Social Security number, so they can’t get a bank account. And without a bank account, they cannot get a job even in the informal economy.

So very often, the more highfalutin, abstract ideas of protection under refugee law and international law, which is my field, I actually find myself debating questions of fact about labor law, about whether a refugee can have a driver’s license, how difficult it is in practice to get a Social Security number. So these are matters of detail, and they are matters that we do need to raise with ministers. And very often they’ll say, “Oh, well, I didn’t know that was the case. Give us the facts and we’ll do something about it.”

NELUFAR: Gillian Triggs, thank you so much for talking with me.

GILLIAN: It’s a real pleasure, as always, talking to you. And let’s hope we can persuade more of those wonderful people in the middle.

NELUFAR: Gillian Triggs is the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, working with the United Nations Refugee Agency.

[PERCUSSIVE MUSIC]

NELUFAR: That’s our show, and our season as well. It seems fitting that our second season ends where our first season started, on refugees. That’s because the whole idea behind Course Correction is to get people talking to each other, to challenge ourselves, to see people we disagree with not as enemies, but as real humans with shared hopes and dreams that we all can relate to. As a refugee, I know what it’s like to be viewed as the other. And so I’ve pledged this season not to fall into that trap, even when my guests harbor diametrically opposing views to me. This is how I came to talk to those with different perspectives on religious freedom, men’s roles in the fight for gender equality and free speech. Though at times I’ve been put off, frustrated and yeah, disturbed, I’ve tried to keep things civil and to remember you’ve got to give respect to get it.

If you’ve stuck with me through the season, then you’ve heard me change. You’ve heard me learn to sit still, not butt in and listen to hear. Listen and give myself the freedom to change my mind if I feel compelled to do so. So often we feel like we need to defend our positions with sheer force of logic and passion, we need to compel those that think differently to us to accept our truth. I’ve learned that this simply isn’t helpful.

Facts are facts. But when confronted with seismic divides like the refugee crisis, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and others, it’s too simplistic to say, “Hey, I’ve got the right answer, believe me, or else.” I’ve learned in the course of making this season that we are polarized, but not as much as we think. The wounds are not deep, and we can work together to heal them. After all, that’s why we argue so much, because we care about these issues. I know now, after making this series that this is a great starting point, and one we can build on.

[CREDITS]
Before I thank all the people who helped me make Course Correction possible, I want to take a moment to thank you, dear listener. We at Doha Debates see this podcast as a means to build a community. And I’m honored that you’ve chosen to join me these past few months. So as we wrap up this season, I’ll say goodbye for now. You can still find my work on other Doha Debates projects and stay tuned to this channel for more podcasts down the road. And if for some reason you’ve missed a few podcasts, now is your chance to subscribe to our whole second season and catch up.

We’re always here to listen to your feedback. You can tweet us at @DohaDebates, or me, I’m @Nelufar. Course Correction is written and produced by me, Nelufar Hedayat. Editorial and production assistance comes from Foreign Policy with producers Sarah Kendal, Zamone Perez and Rosie Julin. The managing director of FP Studios is Rob Sachs. The show is brought to you by Doha Debates, which is a production of Qatar Foundation. Our executive producers are Japhet Weeks, Amjad Atallah and Jigar Mehta. Thanks again for joining us, and we’ll see you next season.

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