There are 21.3 million refugees worldwide, according to the United Nations, and the majority are under the age of 18.
On Thursday, Caryl Stern, president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF came to Houston Hall to speak about the state of the global refugee crisis.
“Children should not be defined by their borders,” she said.
Stern explained her personal connection to UNICEF’s work; her mother was a child refugee whose parents sent her to the U.S. when she was only 6 years old. Now she spends much of her time abroad helping children survive conflicts in their home countries.
UNICEF is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that provides humanitarian relief to children and mothers in developing countries. Stern said that in addition to providing relief in countries mired in conflict, UNICEF also sets up camp along the travel routes of refugees in order to make their journey less perilous.
In addition to providing basic resources, the organization also strives to educate the children in the camps and provide venues for them to socialize and play games together. Stern said these services are vital both to the children’s well being and to the global community, as these efforts aim to ensure millions of future adults are healthier and more educated.
Stern also took some time to address the nature of the Syrian refugee crisis. She noted that many of these refugees were formerly middle class citizens who enjoyed many of the same modern amenities that Americans enjoy.
When asked about UNICEF’s position on President Donald Trump’s restrictions on refugee admission, Stern reiterated that the organization is nonpartisan and remains focused on pursuing its mission. However, the organization is pushing for the government to adopt a waiver for children exempting them from any new immigration policies regarding refugees.
The event drew not just Penn students, but volunteers and students from all over the city. Hailey Andress, a high school student from outside Philadelphia, attended the event with fellow students.
“As somebody interested in a career in foreign affairs, I’m interested in learning about UNICEF’s work, particularly from a woman CEO,” she said.
UNICEF contacted College sophomore and President of Penn for UNICEF Chaereen Pak about hosting an event for their volunteers. She said the goal of the event was to “gather people interested in strengthening the UNICEF community in Philadelphia.”
Stern emphasized that UNICEF helps children on both sides of every conflict on earth.She mentioned that before being members of any nation, these children are human beings in need of help.
“A child is a child before their nationality,” she said, “before their immigration status.”
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