On September 14, IRAP Director and Co-founder Becca Heller, was invited to speak at a panel event on The Refugee Crisis: Past and Present, organized by the Yale Alumni Nonprofit Alliance.
The panel discussion followed a screening of the film Visas and Virtue, inspired by the true story of Holocaust rescuer Chiune Sugihara, and a Q&A with the filmmaker Chris Tashima. Becca Heller was joined on the panel by Jennifer Prestholdt, Deputy Director and Director of the International Justice Program at The Advocates for Human Rights, and Esperance Gikundiro, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who found refuge in the United States through the help of UNHCR and Heshima Kenya, an NGO that empowers refugee women and girls.
During the discussion, Becca Heller stressed the importance of making legal access available to refugees, and drew many parallels between IRAP’s clients and Esperance Gikundiro’s account of her years-long struggle to get resettled in the United States. Gikundiro is now living in Ohio with her daughter and working with homeless people. Heller emphasized how common these long waiting periods are for refugees, and that they are often the reason why refugees may choose to make the dangerous journey across the sea to eventually reach safety.
All panelists agreed that more needed to be done to help refugees, but that it is a good sign the issue is finally receiving political and public attention worldwide.