Visitors packed into Perry World House on Friday afternoon to hear Samantha Power weigh in on the worldwide refugee crisis.
Power’s speech focused on the crisis through the lens of President Donald Trump’s restrictions on refugee admission, and she also stressed the sheer magnitude of the crisis, calling it the “largest displacement crisis since the Second World War.”
She added that the United States models humanitarian behavior for the world.
“It’s not a coincidence that, in the wake of President Trump’s executive order and the presentation of his proposed budget, all around the world leaders are pointing to U.S. policy as justification to slam their doors, to shrink their financial contributions and even to expel or detain asylum-seekers in their midst,” she said.
The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations delivered the keynote address for the Perry World House’s Global Shifts Conference. Penn President Amy Gutmann introduced Power, praising her “admirably global perspective, warmth and wit.” Gutmann “welcomed back” the Pulitzer Prize-winner, who at Penn’s 259th Commencement Ceremony in 2015.
Power said the status of America’s refugee program under the new administration is very unclear — even to her.
“I don’t know what refugees are going to do this year if even anything close to these budget numbers stick,” she said.
Power also expressed concern over “dangerous and unhealthy” polarization around the crisis.
“The problem of refugees and refugee admission has for the first time become a partisan issue,” she said, referencing exit polls showing overwhelming Republican opposition to the admission of Syrian refugees.
She also offered a glimpse of hope, insisting that “facts can break through even in what seem to be echo chambers.”
Power’s speech was her first time speaking publicly since the end of Obama’s presidency. Her appearance at the Perry World House, therefore, was “me back as me,” she said, no longer speaking on behalf of the U.S. government.
Wharton freshman Christopher Rathbun said that her address was particularly special because she “truly expressed her own views and stances on issues that she had discussed before as a voice of the United States.”
Rathbun also called her speech “inspirational” and “empowering,” pointing to her example of Nicholas Winton, who saved hundreds of refugee children during World War II.
“That story shows the importance of sheer will and undauntedness in working to protect refugees,” he said.
Power encouraged audience members to mobilize to support refugees.
“People are feeling so oppressed, like the odds are stacked against doing what’s smart as well as what’s right, but I think that others have conquered much steeper odds with less company,” Power said. “We can accomplish more. We just have to throw ourselves into the task, mobilize compassion and — let’s say — make America good again.”
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.