June 20th is World Refugee Day, a day the United Nations has designated for raising awareness of forcibly displaced people worldwide. The situation of refugees has made it into the headlines in the past year with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Syrians and others fleeing war and other crises on European shores. There are more displaced persons in the world today than at any time since World War II.
This program aims to raise awareness of the situation of refugees then and now. Among the speakers will be someone who fled Europe in the 1930s to escape from the Nazis and sought refuge in the United States, and a Syrian refugee who was forced to leave Syria in 2011. A representative of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), an organization that works around the world to protect refugees, will talk about the current situation in Europe and elsewhere and how history can guide us in our response. The discussion will be moderated by Mark McGuigan, US Program Director of Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ARSP). Greetings by representatives of the Goethe-Institut and the German Embassy.
This panel discussion is the closing event for ARSP’s 3rd annual fundraiser bike ride “Ride4Action” from Philadelphia to Washington, DC, which raises money and awareness for work with refugees. A portion of the proceeds will go to HIAS. The event is free of charge; attendees will be invited to make a contribution.
Qutaiba Idlbi is a co-founder and Director of Operations for People Demand Change. He is also a research assistant for the Director of Refugee Services at the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. In previous positions, he focused on governance and security developments in Syria while working for Cearus Associates, and was the associate producer for the documentary Red Lines with Spark Media. A native of Damascus, Idlbi was in Syria at the outbreak of protests in March 2011, and was forced to leave the country after being detained twice by Syrian internal security services. He volunteered for various relief organizations and the Syrian National Coalition, and was selected as a fellow for the Leaders for Democracy Fellows Program in Washington, D.C., where he was a visiting fellow at the International Republican Institute. Idlbi is part of a peace exchange program with his holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharmsala, India on prejudice reduction and the role of spirituality in peace building. He holds a degree from the University of Damascus’ Technical Institute for Finance and Banking Sciences, and studied at the International University for Science and Technology in Damascus until he was forced to flee Syria.
Margit Meissner is a volunteer guide and frequent speaker at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. She was born in 1922 in Innsbruck, Austria, and grew up in Prague until 1938. Following the rise of the Nazis to power, Meissner was sent to France, which was deemed safer. In 1940, after France surrendered to Germany, Meissner and her mother managed to flee Europe for the United States. Her memoir, Margit’s Story, was published in 2003.
Melanie Nezer is Vice President of Policy and Advocacy for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). She is also currently chair of Refugee Council USA, the coalition of U.S. non-governmental organizations focused on refugee protection. Before joining HIAS, Nezer was the immigration policy director for the organization now known as US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), where she was co-editor of Refugee Reports and a writer for the annual World Refugee Survey. Prior to her work in Washington, she was in private practice in Miami, Florida, where she specialized in immigration law and criminal defense. Nezer obtained her law degree from Boston College Law School and her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.