On November 17, the Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations hosted a conversation on the refugee crisis with Dr. Henia Dakkak. The International Law Society held the discussion with the help of President Shaye Ciccarone, Vice President Alli Risewick, Law School Chair Kai Harp, Secretary Etta Moen, and Undergraduate Chair Eman Fatima.
Dr. Henia Dakkak is a medical doctor and a public health specialist. She taught public health at Columbia University and worked with several non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Dr. Dakkak also joined the United Nations to work on humanitarian development and peace-building programs at country, regional, and global levels. Since 2014, Dr. Dakkak has worked at the UN Population Fund to strengthen its humanitarian response. In her capacity at the UN, Dr. Dakkak provided assistance in the following disasters: the Indonesian tsunami in 2004, the war in Lebanon in 2006, the floods in Pakistan in 2010, the famine in Somalia in 2011, the civil war in Libya in 2011, the regional Syrian refugee displacement crisis in 2012 and 2013. More recently, Dr Dakkak’s projects have covered the floods in Peru in 2017, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021, and, the influx of Ukrainian refugees in Moldova this year.
Dr. Dakkak emphasized that the motivation behind the work she does in the UN is not to get recognition or praise. Instead, she stated, her core values are the central motivating factor behind these projects.
In response to the question of how climate change affects the refugee crisis, Dr. Dakkak discussed how natural disasters displace many people. The effects of climate change are beginning to show dramatically across the globe, particularly for people who do not have access to adequate shelter and other resources. The number of refugees has recently increased because of the recent Ukrainian refugee crisis, but displacement is more typically related to natural disasters and food insecurity. For example, food insecurity in Somalia is causing a massive amount of displacement. Dr. Dakkak highlighted that these people are the most vulnerable in the world, which is why climate change should be considered significant problem.
With the burden of the prosecution, political refugees have no choice but to flee across borders. Dr. Dakkak described, though, that the problem for climate refugees, such as those displaced by Pakistan’s most recent flooding, the event that made them flee destroyed their home and prevents them from returning.
Dr. Dakkak explains, “We don’t really look at only the refugee. We go beyond the refugees. That is why we also work on displacement, internal displacement, and issues related to statelessness.”
Dr. Dakkak also worked with Ukrainian refugees because of recent events in the Russian-Ukrainian war. She stated that in her experience with Ukrainian refugees, there is a lot to do because of the neglect towards them. This community consists of individuals or families. They talk about their children, older adults, and community leaders and want to be with them instead of alone. Dr. Dakkak furthers that it was complicated to help Ukrainian families move because some of them did not have papers and did not have their children’s identity documentation because of discrimination within their community. She remarked that this community needs more attention than the average population. Many people were trying to move out Ukraine for different reasons. Some were students staying in Ukraine to study and became stuck in Ukraine because of the war without being able to further their education.
At the end of her session. Dr. Dakak depicted the vulnerability of the refugees, explaining that “they are vulnerable because of their ethnicity, no recognition by their government where they left, nor by the government where they are settled.”
Image courtesy of UN News