Seminar: Refugees Deserve Basic Human Rights

MacLeans Geo-JaJa spoke to a group of faculty and students on Tuesday, February 10, about the need to provide refugees with basic human rights. His presentation was part of the weekly seminar series for the Educational Inquiry, Measurement and Evaluation (EIME) doctoral program. His discussion built on Amy Wylie's seminar from the previous week, which also focused on refugees.

Geo-JaJa titled his seminar "International Refugees in Utah: Home But Far Away from Home." "The title speaks very much for itself," he said. Geo-JaJa, a faculty member in the Department of Educational Leadership & Foundations, originally from Nigeria, has been working with refugees in Utah for the past nine years. At one point he used $5,000 donated by the McKay School to hire two graduate students to conduct a study on Utah's refugee population. The students interviewed about 150 families and published their findings. The publication caught the attention of Utah legislators and caused them to look into problems with refugee policies in the state. Eventually, the governor set up the United Refugees Board and advanced $200,000 per year to Utah refugees.

Five years ago Geo-JaJa set up the Inner-city Refugee Committee (IRC), which is now recognized as a functioning agency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Geo-JaJa attributed his interest in the refugee community to a feeling of "social responsibility" to welcome people into a better life. However, he outlined several problems with current refugee conditions in Utah, including disempowerment, poverty, and rising human insecurity. Geo-JaJa explained that when refugees--particularly the adolescents--encounter these obstacles, they seek to find a place to belong, and some become vulnerable to criminal activity. "If we do not change our policy, let us be ready to build another jail," he stated.

Geo-JaJa discussed how integration means different things to different people, and he compared and contrasted partial versus full integration. "Partial integration is a process in which you have citizenship rights, but you do not have human rights," he described. To achieve full integration, a refugee has three necessities: employment, empowerment, and human development. Human development includes full participation in the community, equity in basic human rights, and opportunities to develop individual capabilities. "Human development policies are culturally sensitive," he stated. For the past two years Geo-JaJa has been working with Granite School District to develop culturally sensitive classrooms. "They are doing a great job," he said. "We have to pay unique attention to environment as we construct curriculum. We have not done that in the State of Utah."

"It is the duty of government, society, and individuals to ensure rights."

The second half of Geo-JaJa's seminar consisted of a Q&A session. Various issues were discussed, including state finances allotted to refugees, effects of the economic crisis, education, and Geo-JaJa's work with schools in his native Africa. "I believe that schools in Africa are Africa's major problem," he expressed. "They are the problem in Africa. School systems haven't changed since Africa was colonized by the British." Geo-JaJa is currently working with an African studies institute in China to "perpetuate an educational system that is friendly to globalization."

As Amy Wylie had done in the previous seminar, Geo-JaJa highlighted the need for people to take responsibility in helping refugees adjust to their new home. "You cannot only be a means," he explained. "You should be a part of the end." Too many refugees come to the United States for their education and then return to their mother countries because they do not feel respected and integrated. "It is the duty of government, society, and individuals to ensure rights," he stated. "We all have a unique responsibility to enable refugees to gain their human rights."

2 March 2009