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Four Talks to Change How You Think about the Refugee Crisis

On World Refugee Day, the issue is more important than ever.

Cate Turton/Department for International Development
Source: Cate Turton/Department for International Development

Today is United Nations World Refugee Day—established in 2001 to “commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees”—and there has never been a better time to draw attention to the importance of caring and advocating for this marginalized population.

More than 65 million people have been displaced from their homes, and the global refugee crisis touches issues of war, poverty, famine, economics, race, religion, gender, politics, policy, and justice. When it comes to engaging these issues, listening to those with experience and expertise is essential. TED Talks offer powerful narratives from leading experts that are a great way to look beyond the news headlines and partisan politics to get to the core of the complex ideas shaping one of the biggest challenges in our world today.

Here are four of the best TED Talks for learning about and engaging the refugee crisis. A single talk can’t make anyone an expert, or provide a comprehensive solution, but each of the four talks on this list present personal, practical, and creative entry points for changing the way we think about this important subject.

Let’s help refugees thrive, not just survive,” Melissa Fleming

Melissa Fleming, Head of Communications and Spokesperson for the High Commissioner at UN's High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), tells individual stories of refugees fighting for their lives and their livelihoods. To love refugees as our neighbors, we must consider beyond figuring out where to put them and work to create educational and career opportunities that will help them thrive long-term and break the cycle of violence and war that leads to displacement. “We should think of refugee camps and communities as more than just temporary population centers where people languish waiting for the war to end,” she says. “Rather, as centers of excellence, where refugees can triumph over their trauma and train for the day that they can go home as agents of positive change and social transformation.”

Why the only future worth building includes everyone,” Pope Francis

While he doesn’t mention refugees specifically, this talk from the current Pope delivers a message that cuts to the heart of both the refugee crisis and the human condition: solidarity. “When one realizes that life, even in the middle of so many contradictions, is a gift, that love is the source and the meaning of life, how can they withhold their urge to do good to another fellow being?” He draws a parallel between the parable of the Good Samaritan and the story of today’s society, quoting the words of Mother Teresa: “One cannot love, unless it is at their own expense."

Our refugee system is failing. Here’s how we can fix it,” Alexander Betts

In this talk, Betts, the director of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford, gives historical context for the origins of the international refugee response, breaks down why the refugee system as it currently stands is failing, and offers practical ideas to fix it. The vision, he believes, is in creating ways for refugees to contribute to their host countries or temporary homes. “Politicians frame the issue as a zero-sum issue, that if we benefit refugees, we're imposing costs on citizens,” he says. “We tend to have a collective assumption that refugees are an inevitable cost or burden to society. But they don't have to. They can contribute.”

What it’s like to be a parent in a war zone,” Aala El-Khani

When we talk about the staggering numbers of refugees, we are talking about mothers, fathers, and children. Aala El-Khani, a humanitarian psychologist who works as a consultant for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as well as a Research Associate at the University of Manchester at the Division of Psychology and Mental Health, demonstrates why the question of how to raise healthy children who will be able to live productive lives after the refugee camps is essential to the parents raising these children and to anyone seeking long-term solutions.

Dr. Jamie D. Aten is a disaster psychologist and the founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College in Illinois. His latest books include the Disaster Ministry Handbook and Spiritually Oriented Psychotherapy for Trauma. You can follow Jamie on Twitter at @drjamieaten or visit his website

Laura Leonard is communications specialist for the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College in Illinois.