The refugee crisis has reached epic proportions. According to a 2017 report from the United Nations, “68.5 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. We are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record.” Actionagainsthunger.org reports that one person was displaced every two seconds in the past year.

The vast majority of the countries hosting refugees are among the world’s least developed. More than half the refugees around the globe are under the age of 18, even though children make up only 31 percent of the world’s population.

Refugee status is rarely temporary. Some 80 percent of refugees living in camps are trapped there for five years or more. Refugees in camps often aren’t allowed to work.

To learn more about this crisis, The Napa Center for Thought and Culture has created an evening of refugee experts and medical team members who work in refugee camps.

Frayed Lives: The Global Refugee Crisis will be held on Tuesday, April 23, from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at Congregation Beth Shalom, at 1455 Elm St. Napa. Dinner is included. Tickets are available for $35 at eventbrite.com.

The big picture

Mark Hetfield, CEO of HIAS will be the keynote speaker. HIAS was founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in 1881 to assist Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe.

Starting in the 2000s, HIAS expanded to working with non-Jewish refugees in such areas as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia, Haiti, Hungary, Iran, Morocco, Vietnam and several other countries. HIAS now works globally to build safe communities around the world for refugees, where the majority now remain indefinitely.

Hetfield is recognized as an expert in refugee and immigration law, policy, and programs, and the domestic and global refugee crisis.

According to Hetfield’s HIAS website biography, he practiced immigration law in the Washington, D.C, and graduated cum laude with a juris doctor degree from Georgetown University, from which he also holds a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service.

“Mark has led HIAS’ transformation from an organization focused on Jewish immigrants to a global agency assisting refugees of all faiths and ethnicities,” the website says. “As a result, HIAS currently is a major implementing partner of the United Nations Refugee Agency and the U.S. Department of State.”

In 2005, Hetfield directed a study of asylum seekers that is still used today. The work of this team was awarded the Arthur C. Helton Award for the Advancement of Human Rights, presented by the American Immigration Lawyers Association. The award itself was named for a leader in the field of refugee protection.

Tales from the field

The program will also feature speakers who are all medical volunteers working in refugee camps in Lesbos and Samos, Greece, at the U.S./Mexican border and in Bangladesh.

Valerie Hellerman, is director of Hands on Global (HOG), a small non-governmental organization in Helena, Montana that sends small medical teams to work with refugees in Greece and the U.S./Mexican border.

In 2016, HOG was founded to fulfill a request by the Dalai Lama to provide medical services at his newly built hospital in Zanskar, in the eastern half of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. He said, “This is the last authentic Buddhist culture and you must continue this work.”

In response to the refugee crisis, HOG began their first service trip to Lesbos, Greece in February 2018, returning in October. They recently returned in 2019 from Samos, Greece, and will return in October. The trips run from three weeks to three months (when visas expire).

Volunteers pay their own way, in addition to digging into their own pockets to provide needed medicines and clothing for refugees. They work six days a week, an average of eight hours a day, seeing 50-60 patients a day. The medical team works out of a van, which they refer to as “Gorilla Van.”

The pharmacy is the backseat, physical therapy is on a wooden, cement bench. The conditions are bleak. HOG brings their own medicine or they purchase it on the island. HOG also purchases coats, boots, blankets, as well as food for the refugee translators, which is their only reward.

Hellerman wrote in her blog, “ We hear there is tremendous needs in Samos: basic food, shelter and medical care needs are not being met, and the refugees are desperate. We are ready to head into the belly of the beast, ‘the jungle’– the overflow of 4,500 people.

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“The conditions are appalling. People are living in small tents, some have tarps, most don’t. There are only three porta-potties so people are urinating and defecating in plastic bottles.”

HOG partners with refugee4refugees, a refugee lead NGO that works in Samos and Lesbos, and Kitrinos Healthcare (an NGO out of UK), and Med’Equali, from France that only works in Samos.

HOG brings clothes, as well as dolls made by Napa Valley residents. In 2018, in response to Napa Nextdoor, the Napa community donated more than 1,000 toothbrushes and 1,000 pairs of new underwear to HOG.

Dr. Georgia Milan specializes in family health and integrative medicine. In 2013, Milan was honored by President Barack Obama with the “Champion of Change” White House Award. Dr. Milan has studied Ayurvedic, Tibetan and herbal medicine and integrates them in her allopathic practice. She received an International Diploma in Humanitarian Aid to better serve the most vulnerable populations. Milan is a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility and a graduate of Mayo Medical School. She has worked with Hands on Global in Greece and she works with refugees on the southern U.S./Mexico border.

She writes in her HOG blog, “Today was my first day at the Respite Center of the Rio Grand Valley Catholic Charities. I saw 60 patients, many children. Everyone had children with them. There were many fathers with their children. The mothers stayed behind knowing their husbands could earn more money and hoping their children could have a better life. I can only image the heartbreak of these women.

“Often I saw children that looked shell shocked after a three-four week journey through Mexico and still, no Mom. Children were frightened and confused with loving fathers, hoping they made the right decision. Other children were left behind. ICE has a practice of separating moms and dads but some still made it intact with both parents and kids – the rarity.”

Milan will be speaking about conditions in the U.S./Mexico border camps.

Lily Schroeder, an emergency registered nurse from Ketchikan, Alaska will briefly address the camps in Bangladesh that house the Burmese Rohingya refugees.

Tama Adelman, is a retired RN and Napan who works in Lesbos and Samos refugee camps. She will speak about Napa Valley’s Community’s support for medical service teams going to Greece.

The evening will include time for audience members to ask questions and discuss among themselves the issues and potential actions regarding the global refugee crisis. A light dinner will start the evening in the gathering.

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Mara Adelman, Ph.D. (mara@seattleu.edu), is a local Napa resident, NCTC board member, and retired college professor who raises funds for refugees through her organization, www.earringsforpeace.com.