Coalition created to support Upper Valley refugees

by Frances Cohen | 2/23/17 2:10am

Two Dartmouth students, Veselin Nanov ’20 and Kasia Kready ’17, recently founded the Upper Valley Coalition for Immigrants and Refugees as an action group with the aim of supporting immigrants and refugees both in the Upper Valley community and abroad. The Dartmouth-based club has had two meetings to date.

Nanov said that the initial idea for the club began towards the end of last fall as an initiative to raise awareness about the crisis in Syria, although President Donald Trump’s recent executive order regarding immigration served as a catalyst for the creation of the club. Signed by President Trump on Jan. 27, the executive order started a 90-day ban on the admission of non-U.S. citizens from Sudan, Iran, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Syria. However, the act has been put on hold as its constitutionality is being reviewed by the court system.

Despite the current state of the order, Trump’s further actions on immigration and refugee policies will dictate the efforts of the club in the future. They are currently focusing on preparing to react to whatever comes their way, studio art professor and club member Viktor Witkowski said.

“We will have to think quickly and react quickly depending on what the government will decide. Right now we are preparing, organizing, trying to get a sense of who will be part of the group … and then based on what actually happens we will have to react and respond,” Witkowski said.

The overall goal of the club is to support and protect refugees in the surrounding Vermont and New Hampshire area and to educate the community on the issue in general, club member Sophia Kinne ’20 said.

The club founders intentionally did not use Dartmouth in the club’s name because they wanted to include members of the surrounding community, Nanov said. The club consists of a mix of faculty, staff, students and Upper Valley residents.

Nanov said that he and Kready reached out to the existing Upper Valley Refugee Working Group, which was already working on behalf of refugees in the area, to help spread the word to the community.

“I felt very happy that we are in this broader community where people care and are willing to dedicate their time and enthusiasm to this cause,” Nanov said.

Currently, the club’s focus has been to raise awareness about the refugee crisis on campus, which is especially important because students often feel very isolated and separate from issues of this kind, Nanov said.

The first meeting focused on coming up with a concrete goal, mission statement and name for the club. The second meeting focused more specifically on plans and actions for the upcoming weeks, as well as distributing leadership positions, Nanov said.

Apart from generally educating the community on the topic, the club is in the preliminary stages of developing plans for the future.

The club is brainstorming some ways in which they can work together with other on-campus groups with similar aims, Witkowski said.

They also hope to potentially hold a fundraiser in the spring, Kinne said. Nanov said he has been in contact with some possible speakers for events or club meetings.

“Education is going to be one of the primary goals of our organization, [but so are] figuring out how to respond to government and making sure that we are part of a discourse on a broader intercollegiate and national level,” Nanov said.

Nanov said he has overall been impressed with the level of interest for the club, noting an especially large freshmen presence. Currently, over 100 people are on the club’s mailing list.

Those involved with the club feel strongly about the refugee and immigration issues at the forefront of our political atmosphere, many for personal reasons.

Witkowski, who himself left Poland as a refugee, said the refugee crisis has reminded him of “what it meant to be without a home, and that you arrive to a country that is now supposed to be your new home.”

In the life of a refugee, it makes all the difference to have people along the way who make you feel welcome, Witkowski said.

“The history of the United States is kind of based on immigrants and ... refugees … and this is what makes this country,” Witkowski said.