Fairfield Students Rally to Support Afghan Refugees

Fairfield Students Rally to Support Afghan Refugees

Amelia Bowles and Caroline Wright carrying furniture

(l-r) Amelia Bowles '24 and Caroline Wright '24 helped set up a home for Afghan refugees resettling in Bridgeport.

This semester, Fairfield University students partnered with regional refugee resettlement agencies to welcome, support, and raise awareness of the plight of Afghan refugees in Connecticut.

According to the United Nations refugee agency, four decades of conflict, persecution, and forced displacement in Afghanistan have led to one of the largest and most protracted refugee crises in the world today. More than 5.6 million Afghans have been forced to flee their homes, and it is estimated that 600,000 have been displaced inside their country this year alone.

As hundreds of refugees began arriving in Connecticut from Afghanistan in the wake of the country’s August 2021 Taliban takeover, Fairfield students who are active in the Center for Social Impact's Humanitarian Action Club sprang into action to assist local refugee resettlement agencies IRRC (Interfaith Refugee Resettlement Committee), CIRI (Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants) and IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services).

Groups of student volunteers collaborated with the IRRC — a coalition of Muslim communities, churches, and synagogues — to move furniture and set up two Bridgeport apartments for 11 members of a large extended family of Afghan refugees. Some were fortunate enough to be able to meet family members and welcome them personally.

“Knowing that I aided in the adjustment of an Afghani family that has been through unimaginable experiences” left a strong impression on Julia Farah ’24, who was grateful for the “small role” she played in “helping a family who has gone through the process of being forced from their home and is coming to a new and different place.”  

The Humanitarian Action Club held its annual Fall Fest outside the BCC in November, which promoted humanitarian efforts on campus and in the community, and raised $800 in funds for CIRI, IRIS, and Girls Up — an organization that advocates for the education of girls around the world. Students bought tickets to participate in outdoor games and activities, the most popular of which was a petting zoo that included baby goats. The event was supported by the Fairfield University Student Association (FUSA), which donated items for a raffle.

Student senators Vincent Rotondo, John Stalzer, and Danielle Dunne of the FUSA Senate also showed their support by putting forth and passing Resolution S58 – 001: A Resolution to Acknowledge the Afghan Refugee Situation and Endorse the Efforts of Students to Contribute to the Resettlement of Refugees.

Students in the honors “Global Engagement” course raised awareness of the plight of refugees through a “Walk in Their Shoes Refugee Experience” in the Oak Room. More than 100 students participated in the transformative experience, which illustrated what it is like to flee across international borders and arrive at the Syrian refugee camp Za’atari, one of the largest in the world. Participants walked the steps from camp registration, security, and medical screening, to the water and food station, holding area, and resettlement interview.

At the end of the experience, students were offered tangible ways to serve global refugees, and were given a chance to debrief and process their experience. “Confronting the truly heartbreaking reality that millions of refugees are currently facing has dramatically shifted my perspective on suffering,” said Jenna Ranney ’23.

Next semester, the Center for Social Impact and the College of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Institute will continue refugee awareness initiatives and demonstrate support for academic freedom by hosting exiled Afghan professor and scholar-at-risk Dr. Sayed Hassan Akhlaq, PhD, in February 2022. Dr. Akhlaq will visit classrooms and present lectures to the campus community on his scholarship in the fields of Islamic studies and philosophy, his current thoughts on Western nation-building, and his own personal story of displacement.

To learn more about the work of the Center for Social Impact, including Humanitarian Action efforts, please visit fairfield.edu/socialimpact.

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