Daemen College played host Tuesday to a panel discussion on refugees, immigrants and President Donald Trump's policies concerning them.
The forum, "The Myths and Realities of Trump Policies on Refugees and Immigrants," featured four speakers who took turns discussing the impact of immigrants on the local community, Trump policies including his disputed executive order restricting travel from several mostly-Muslim nations, the rights of refugees who have arrived in America and the anti-refugee and anti-immigrant rhetoric that emerged during last year's presidential campaign.
Julia Hall, an expert in counter-terrorism and human rights for Amnesty international, says President Trump is exploiting what has been hotter anti-refugee rhetoric coming from European nations including the Netherlands, Germany, Hungary and Poland.
"At the Serbian-Hungarian border there is an obstacle to refugees getting in. It's a wall and a fence," she told WBFO after the forum. "When we look at what is happening in the United States, we really have to put it in the context of a global situation where the humanitarian instinct toward refugees and migrants is deeply under threat."
Among the points discussed was the message of fear by many, linking refugees - especially Muslims - to terrorism. Panelist, activist and Muslim-American Julie Algubani recalled growing up in an environment where her neighbors came from different backgrounds yet seemed to get along with each other. That, she lamented, has been lost in today's political environment.
She spoke of a recent trip to a restaurant with two Muslim peers. Upon arriving at the front door, her two friends abruptly ceased a conversation being spoken in Arabic. One of the friends decided against using the remote on her car key chain to check whether her vehicle was locked. The reason for both actions, Algubani explained, was that her friends were afraid of being considered as up to no good by the strangers surrounding them.
The best way to learn the truth about those arriving in Buffalo from other lands, she suggested, was simply talking to them.
"If you've never had a conversation with someone from another country, if you've never had a conversation with someone from another religion that you don't know anything about and don't understand, have that conversation," Algubani said. "Nine times out of ten, they're going to want to talk to you."
She also recommended having conversations with those active in refugee and immigrant interests in Buffalo.
The other two speakers work directly with refugee and immigrant populations, Dr. Myron Glick of Jericho Road Community Health Center and Karen Scott of Journey's End Refugee Services.
Nearly 200 people were in attendance. Student Daisy Doherty, a graduate physical therapy student, was among them. She explained to WBFO that she previously did volunteer work at Lafayette High School in Buffalo, where many recent arrivals to the city are enrolled.
She was asked by WBFO if she has had the chance to share her own stories with peers, to help separate what is real and what is myth.
"I've definitely had first-hand experience I like to share and say how positive they are for our area," she said. "One of the students I worked with at Lafayette High School was awarded the Bill Gates Millennium Scholarship."
With Doherty was Alexis Lillie, a first-year masters student in social work. She wanted to hear directly from those who work in the front lines of refugee and immigrant interests. She left the forum feeling encouraged to get more involved. "I think I'll definitely make more of an effort to be active in the community in that kind of way, the rallies and volunteering," Lillie said. "I think it's really important to make that personal connection with them."