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SMU Town Hall On Refugee Crisis Brings Together Politicians, Community

Lauren Silverman
About 150 people gathered at a forum at SMU on Tuesday to learn about refugees.

More than 60 million people have been displaced from their homes because of conflict around the world – officials say that number is unprecedented.

SMU hosted a conversation about the global refugee crisis Tuesday evening. Former First Lady Laura Bush was among more than 150 people who attended.

David Miliband is president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. His organization helped resettle more than 900 refugees in Dallas last year. He told the audience that every 24 seconds, one more person becomes a refugee.

“The statistics are almost numbing," he said. "Stalin said that one person death is a tragedy and a million people's death is a statistic. The danger is that refugees go from being a tragedy to a statistic because of the numbers. We have to beware the dehumanization of this population.”

The conversation comes as President Trump’s revised travel ban is on hold. The ban would affect travel from six majority-Muslim countries. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins says there may be support for the ban in Texas, but he doesn’t think following popular opinion is always the right way to go when it comes to refugees.

“We’re talking about children who are six, maybe 10 years old who’ve been stuck in holding pattern refugee centers for two years before they get here," Jenkins said. "When you see that, I don’t think you can look at polling or what the majority thinks because the first and foremost job for all of us is service and service to everybody.”

Refugee Services of Texas has helped settle more than 1,200 refugees across the state since September. The International Rescue Committee helped resettle more than 900 refugees in Dallas last year. Over 70 percent of these refugees, according to the IRC, are women and children coming to join family members who already live in the U.S.

Since the U.S. refugee program was formalized in 1980, the IRC points out, there has never been a deadly terrorist act committed by a refugee.

Still, across the state, people have concerns about refugee resettlement.

“There’s a lot of fear about this issue,” said audience member Rick Chalk. During the question and answer portion of the the presentation at SMU, Chalk went to the microphone up to share his experience as a resident of the small town of Groesbeck, an hour-and-a-half south of Dallas.

“I’m on board with [resettlement], but I have family and friends who have legitimate questions and I don’t know how to answer," he said.

Miliband said answers to common questions about the vetting system can be found


“It’s completely legitimate for people to ask questions," Miliband said. "We want a good security vetting system."

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.