Tania Rashid saw pieces of American-branded, blood-soaked clothing scattered among the rubble of fallen buildings after a Bangladeshi garment factory collapsed in 2013 and killed more than 1,000 people.
Rashid, then a reporter for Al Jazeera, was a panelist at Human Rights Night, an event hosted by Fresh START at UCLA and LA Stop the Traffik, two student organizations that focus on refugee issues and human trafficking, respectively. About 50 people attended the event held in Ackerman Global Viewpoint Lounge Tuesday.
Rashid said covering the industrial disaster cemented her commitment to human rights issues in journalism.
“We just see nice shirts and shoes from H&M, and we don’t think about where they come from,” said Rashid, a freelance journalist who graduated from UCLA in 2007 with a degree in history and global studies. “We live in a bubble – we need to be more worldly, more culturally aware.”
Natalie Khoury, founder and president of the UCLA chapter of Fresh START, said she established the group with the goal of localizing the global refugee crisis. The Human Rights Night was the group’s first event.
Khoury founded Fresh START – an acronym for “students together aiding refugees today” – in winter quarter as the UCLA chapter of the organization. Meymuna Hussein-Cattan, a former refugee and panelist at the event, founded the first chapter at UC Irvine in 2012.
Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, an associate professor in Chicana/o studies and an immigration expert, said the intersection of refugee issues and human trafficking is globally prevalent, from the Middle East to Central America.
“(Refugees) are desperate to find a way to safe zones, and many of them have to rely on the human trafficking option to make it,” Hinojosa-Ojeda said. “There’s no doubt that being in a refugee situation puts you at risk and many human traffickers take advantage of them.”
Khoury, a fourth-year English and Spanish student, said she was inspired to found Fresh START after taking classes on refugee literature. She added she met Hussein-Cattan through the class and learned about her organization Tiyya, which aims to help resettle refugee and immigrant families.
“People focus so much on the journey of the refugee,” Khoury said. “They don’t realize what happens when they actually get relocated.”
Khoury said refugees receive very little financial support from governments, and it is often difficult for them to resettle in a new country. She added Tiyya not only helps children adjust to their new environment, but also offers parents resume and language workshops and helps them deal with trauma.
Andrea Gataric, the outreach director of LA Stop the Traffik and a second-year psychology student, said the student group has partnered with local organizations to help survivors of human trafficking since its inception in 2014. The group has held resume-building, poetry and yoga workshops for survivors of sex trafficking.
The panel included a former refugee and a survivor of human trafficking, who contributed their personal experiences to the dialogue.
“I feel like there’s a sense of authority when they’ve dealt with it firsthand,” Khoury said. “They have the capacity to make (the issues) more relatable.”
Nagwa Ibrahim, a panelist and attorney, said she decided to specialize in immigration law after the Department of Homeland Security instituted the post-9/11 National Security Entry-Exit Registration System in 2002.
She said the system, which she viewed as a case of blatant racial profiling, required immigrant men from Arab- and Muslim-majority countries, who were already living in the U.S., to register at immigration offices.
“I saw hundreds of brown men lined up outside immigration offices who didn’t have any legal protection,” said Ibrahim, who graduated from the UCLA School of Law in 2000. “Very few lawyers wanted to do pro bono work … and a lot of them wanted to exploit the situation.”
Ibrahim said student organizations have the opportunity to use the resources and large audience at universities like UCLA to draw attention to these issues.
“Student organizations are not just relevant for the campus,” she said. “Students underestimate the power they have … you don’t need a law degree to help.”