On Saturday, Feb. 7, more than 75 students, Maine residents, and community organizers gathered on campus to participate in a full-day conference focused on the status of the more than 4.2 million Iraqis who have been displaced since the 2003 U.S. invasion. The Iraq Refugee Awareness Movement (IRAM), a student organization advised by Assistant Professor of History Jason Opal, spearheaded the event. The Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement sponsored the conference.

Nour al-Khal, former New York Times interpreter and assistant to deceased U.S. freelancer Steven Vincent, opened the day’s events with an emotional account of her protracted and physically painful journey to attain refugee status in the United States after being shot three times and left for dead by Iraqi police impersonators.

Alaa Rasheed, an Iraqi translator and refugee now living in Worcester, Mass., discussed in a lunchtime address the logistical difficulties of transitioning into life in the United States for most Iraqi refugees.

Other speakers included Kael Alford and Anna Badkhen, journalists who created the book Unembedded; two Iraqi refugees who’ve been resettled in the United States; two representatives from international nonprofits that aid refugees; and Laila Al-Arian, a journalist for Al Jazeera English.

The afternoon also featured two workshops. Cheryl Hamilton from the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence and Arian Giantris from Catholic Charities Maine led one workshop that focused on acting locally to offer immediate aid to Iraqi refugees resettled in Maine. Alford and Badkhen, the two journalists that addressed the audience in the morning, ran a second workshop titled Refugee Advocacy and Journalism.

Sophie Sarkar ’11, an IRAM student leader, thought the conference forged a relationship between American conference attendees and Iraqis. “It made the issue a reality by connecting the Colby community to actual Iraqi refugees,” she said.

To watch a student-produced video about the Iraqi Refugee Awareness Movement at Colby, click here.