One Issue, Multiple Views:

According to the White House, more than 10,000 Syrian refugees were admitted to the United States this past fiscal year, along with tens of thousands more from El Salvador, Iraq and Somalia, among other countries. While war and civil unrest have displaced millions of Syrians, there are countless reasons why people migrate to other countries.

We asked four Drexel University professors to discuss, in 200 words or less, the factors of human migration and how their field is impacted by or reacting to the recent influx of refugees and immigrants.


Associate Professor of Biology

Civil unrest and war cause the destruction of health care facilities, and thus, significantly disrupt a country’s health care monitoring systems. The war in Syria has destroyed most of the facilities and monitoring systems in the country, including clinics, physician records and data-collection systems that monitor infectious diseases. The migration of citizens out of countries experiencing civil unrest and war into “safer” countries is impacting the health care systems of the countries accepting these people. An example of this is Jordan, a country that has a strong and effective monitoring and treatment system for the disease tuberculosis, which successfully helped keep the incidence of this disease at a very low level. Tuberculosis is transmitted in the population by airborne droplets of saliva from the infected to the uninfected. Health monitoring of the Syrian nationals fleeing into Jordan revealed that the incidence of tuberculosis was high in that group. There is concern in my field that this situation could happen in the United States as well. The case study from Jordan has alerted us to this outcome, and the United States should be able to institute a vigilant monitoring and treatment system for this purpose.


Assistant Professor of Politics

Scholars in American politics often ask: “What drives public opinion about immigration to the United States?” Those in comparative politics — my subfield — might explore how and why certain countries become major receivers of refugees and/or migrants. International relations scholars often consider migration through the lens of globalization or membership in the international community. Political theorists ask how states and individuals ought to behave toward migration and migrants.

Here at Drexel, Zoltán Búzás, PhD, assistant professor of politics, writes about how some countries evade international law, including refugee law and treaty arrangements about citizenship. Bill Rosenberg, PhD, professor of politics, teaches a popular course on the politics of immigration in the United States.

My own course, Civilians in Armed Conflict, explores issues of forced and voluntary migration from violent settings. My students learn that there are actually more internally displaced persons (people who relocate within their own country) than refugees, and that both local and global contexts matter. Genocide seems to drive refugee flows, while civil war is associated more with internal displacement. War-torn countries surrounded by dictatorships and poverty produce lower refugee flows than those surrounded by rich and/or democratic countries. But one of the primary messages of my course — given the danger and difficulty of migration — is the importance of protecting civilians who stay behind.


Head of the Department of Global Studies and Modern Languages, Professor of Spanish

The Department of Global Studies and Modern Languages examines migration and displacement in the context of larger issues such as inequality and war. As migrants and refugees move around the globe, they create linguistic and cultural flows that traverse countries and enrich local communities. Language learning has thus evolved from memorization to a dynamic field of groundbreaking teaching practices, including community engagement. Not only do we study foreign cultures abroad, but we must also work with transnational communities here at home.

Our courses often use technology to connect language students with native speakers. Through our Global Classrooms program, our Spanish- and Chinese-language learners hone their skills in joint projects with English- language students at top universities in Chile and China. Recently, I developed with my students and two community partners a digital storytelling workshop for young Central American migrants. Using the power of video-making and personal testimony, my students learned Spanish and conducted rigorous research while migrants improved their English and technological skills. Thanks to our migrant and refugee communities, language learning is closer to our social realities than ever.


Director of the Center for Mobilities Research and Policy, Professor of Sociology

It is important to distinguish between our national (and I would argue ethical) obligation to accept refugees and asylum seekers under the United Nations Convention for Human Rights, versus the question of U.S. immigration policy and debates about how many migrants we think the country should accept. These are two distinct bodies of policy and law, but they are often confused in the media and in popular debates. My field of mobilities research is committed to developing critical perspectives on migration that can help us avoid the kind of xenophobic and exclusionary backlash that we have seen in many countries where attacks on migrants, refugees, and ethnic and religious minorities who are citizens are on the rise.

As a mobilities scholar, I think we need to inject into policy debates the concept of a human right to mobility and the obligation to protect refugees and asylum seekers who are fleeing wars and violence. More broadly, my field is developing new approaches to “mobility justice,” which seek to extend and deepen more inclusive democratic political deliberation around issues of migration; strengthen procedural justice around issues such as residency rights, migrant detention, and deportation; and reflect on our own epistemic assumptions concerning issues of human movement and national borders.

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