Labor Round Table on The International Refugee Crisis Hears Testimony From Around The World

September 26, 2016

As President Obama held a Leaders Summit on Refugees during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, more than 150 members of 1199SEIU came together for a Labor Round Table on the refugee crisis at the union’s headquarters on the other side of town. Public Services International (PSI), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) worked with 1199SEIU to raise awareness and share union experiences and strategies on the protection of the human rights of migrants and refugees.

The event brought together over 150 members of 1199SEIU United Health Care Workers East, SEIU elected leaders, civil society organizations, a representative from the US Department of Labor, PSI Secretariat and representatives of PSI unions from Germany, Sweden and Nigeria. It was held a day after the UN High Level Summit on Large Movements of Migrants and Refugees in New York. Members heard testimony from fellow trade unionists about the impact of displacement around the world. Herbert Beck, of the 2.2 million strong German public service workers union Ver.di, spoke about how his country had registered more than a million asylum seekers last year, 40 per cent of whom had fled the war in Syria. He described how the government had set up welcome centers in large cities where volunteers provided language classes and other help with resettlement.

The population of the United States is about four times as large as that of Germany, but only 12,000 Syrian refugees have been resettled in this country compared with roughly 400,000 who were admitted to Germany last year alone.

It is not just people who have fled the Syrian conflict who account for the record number of displaced people around the world last year. The United Nations estimates that one out of every 113 people on earth has had to flee their homes and find shelter elsewhere.

Moradeke Abiodun-Badru of the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives explained to the Round Table how there were a growing number of displaced people in her country where the poverty rate stands at 71% of the population.

In fact, 86% of people who are displaced from their homes around the world are hosted by people living in the poorest countries, added Rosa Pavenelli, the General Secretary of PSI, who co-hosted the Labor Round Table.

Rebecca Estrada, an 1199SEIU delegate and home health aide came to the labor round table to learn more about the refugee crisis. "There are many people around the world in need of help. We must work together," said Estrada, who was born in Peru.

Lerris Fraser is an 1199SEIU delegate who works at the St Nick's Alliance in Brooklyn as a Home Health Aide. She emigrated from Trinidad almost 20 years ago. "I know the problems people face in other parts of the world. My sister was living in Nigeria when she became pregnant with quintuplets. She had to come back to the US to give birth." Fraser continued: "I think we are very blessed here and we don't always stretch out our hands to help."