by Samantha Weeks

Hamilton’s Professor of Economics Erol Balkan plays a large role in the refugee community of Utica and around the world. Through sharing his experience, Balkan aims to involve more and more Hamilton students in his project, Refugees on the Move, and raise general awareness of the current global refugee crisis.

Balkan’s interest in the refugee community began four years ago in Turkey: “I was working on a documentary on the Euphrates River close to the border of Turkey and Syria, and I witnessed the plight of thousands of refugees coming [into Turkey]. This got me thinking, and I started to get involved as researcher and social scientist.”

His experience in Turkey (he is currently working with two NGO’s who are working with refugee communities in Turkey)  motivated Balkan to increase his role in the refugee community around Hamilton. He developed a proposal with New York Six (a consortium of six colleges in Upstate New York) called “Refugees on the Move”, which attempts to “connect global refugee issues with local refugee lives.” The crisis is especially relevant for Hamilton students due to their proximity to Utica, a current hub for refugees. Refugees on the Move with the partnership of the Levitt Center has developed various research activities for Hamilton students  in order to increase their awareness and involvement. For example, the project is planning to screen the oscar nominated ‘Watani: My Homeland’ at Hamilton, a documentary about a refugee family’s journey from Syria to Germany, and bring the director, producer, and if possible even the family who made the journey to campus. This screening will serve as the beginning of many activities to come involving the local refugee community. He is also in the process of constructing a website called refugiaproject.org  to host news, articles, opinions, etc. about the global refugee crisis.

Balkan additionally wants to communicate the unconstitutionality of Trump’s recent refugee ban and its impact on communities who are receiving refugees. Utica, a city that was on the decline for the past 50 years, is currently undergoing economic development due to the work of the refugee community. In recent years, refugees have opened small businesses and employed community members, which creates more tax-payers. This ban is going to negatively affect communities like Utica, which have gained economic prosperity from the work of refugees. According to Balkan, “the founding of this country is all about refugees and immigrants, so this ban is completely unconstitutional.”

To find out more opportunities to get involved with refugee community in Utica and fight the current refugee ban, please contact Professor Balkan at ebalkan@hamilton.edu.

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