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ASU student behind launch of new education initiative for refugees in Israel

ASU student's work in Israel leads to new education initiative for refugees.
July 14, 2020

Education for Humanity offers online courses to displaced Africans in Tel Aviv

When an Arizona State University student saw firsthand the dire circumstances of African refugees in Israel, she knew that she could find an answer to the crisis at ASU.

Julia Jackman worked as an intern in Tel Aviv last summer, helping refugees from Eritrea and Sudan find ways to further their education — which is extremely difficult for them to do in Israel. So she asked ASU to help.

The result is that more than 50 refugees will begin taking online classes this week through Education for Humanity, ASU’s initiative to offer postsecondary courses to people affected by displacement around the world.

“I knew the goals of the university are to measure success by whom it includes, and I knew we had a robust online education platform,” Jackman said. “This has really highlighted for me that it takes a village.”

Education for Humanity, which is working with more than 2,000 learners in eight countries, has added the African Refugee Development Center in Israel as a partner, with online classes that launched July 12 to African refugees in Tel Aviv, according to Nicholas Sabato, director of country programs at Education for Humanity.

“We’re mobilizing a program launch during lockdown half a world away for refugees who have experienced a dearth of educational opportunities,” he said. “Our excitement can’t be understated.”

Julia Jackman worked with Africans refugees in Israel last year and helped to bring higher education opportunities through ASU's Education for Humanity to the displaced people.

Jackman, who will be a senior this fall, is majoring in biochemistry and global health, with a minor in civic and economic thought and leadership. She became aware of refugee issues two years ago when she started volunteering with REACT, a partnership of students in Barrett, The Honors College and local nonprofits and medical providers that does health-care outreach to refugee communities in Maricopa County.

Last summer, Jackman went on a 10-day study abroad through the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership’s Global Intensive Experience in Israel and Palestine, then stayed in Tel Aviv to work as an intern with the African Refugee Development Center. There, she was a higher-education caseworker for 50 people who were refugees and asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea.

The work was difficult because education opportunities are very limited and expensive.

“Israel is very inhospitable to the refugees, calling them ‘infiltrators,’” Jackman said.

“I was working with people who had so many dreams and goals, just like I did, but they don’t have the finances to make it possible.”

So she decided to go to the top.

“I emailed President Crow, not really expecting a response, but asking for ways to offer ASU’s online presence to refugees,” she said. “To my surprise, he responded and put me in touch with Pamela DeLargy.”

DeLargy, executive director of Education for Humanity and senior adviser on international development initiatives in the Office of the President at ASU, has worked with refugees for more than 20 years, including with the United Nations in Ethiopia.

“Many of the refugees in Israel are victims of trafficking who were held in the Sinai Peninsula, and a lot had been tortured, or their relatives extorted for money,” said DeLargy, who is also a professor of practice in the School of Politics and Global Studies.

“There was a lot of organ trafficking — taking of kidneys and things like that.”

Many who were released or escaped their traffickers crossed over into Israel, seeking safety. But the current government is not welcoming.

“When they first got there, many had jobs and lived freely but more recently they’re not allowed to work and there are camps where they have to stay,” DeLargy said.

“A lot of them are hungering for education and skills training because they won’t have a future in Israel. But they may be able to go someone else eventually, and getting certified in English will be helpful to them.”

Besides English language courses in collaboration with Global Launch, Education for Humanity offers classes in how to be a successful online learner, as well as Earned Admissions courses from EdPlus that can be transferred for credit.

Jackman said that those earned-admission courses are critical for the refugees she worked with.

“When they’re fleeing, a lot of people take the essentials but don’t think about taking documentation that they have completed high school or a transcript of their first few college classes,” she said.

“It can be extremely difficult to get those documents. They have no way to prove that they have completed secondary education, and getting a (general equivalency diploma) while also trying to work is a two-year-long process. Earned admission eliminates that barrier.”

Education for Humanity started offering courses three years ago, working closely with partners in the host countries, such as humanitarian agencies and ministries of education. The courses are cost-free for the refugees, thanks to support from a private donors, foundations and matching funds from ASU.

“It’s a testament to ASU that these types of opportunities can arise — a student-generated idea that President Crow endorses and links with our initiative to bring to fruition,” Sabato said.

Jackman was supposed to be traveling to Ethiopia, Israel, Jordan and Switzerland this summer, funded by a $10,000 Barrett Explorers Grant to research barriers to higher education for refugees.

“Obviously, that’s not happening,” she said. “But I’m able to take the time to work on this partnership, and I’m grateful for that.”

Jackman hopes to go to medical school, but first wants to attend graduate school to study global health in the context of humanitarian disasters.

“The internship had an intense impact on me and my goals and career aspirations, and I wanted to give something back to the community that could last longer than the time that I was in Israel,” she said.

Top image of Tel Aviv courtesy of Pixabay.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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Geopolitical stakes are high in North Macedonia's upcoming election

July 14, 2020

ASU professor breaks down the history and politics of the July 15 election that could be pivotal for the region

North Macedonia’s parliamentary elections on July 15 will be critical for the country’s European Union accession. It will also showcase the state of play in great power rivalries in the Western Balkans. 

With the contenders offering very different future paths, and with COVID-19 quarantine increasing the power of online disinformation campaigns, the stakes are high for the country and the region.    

Keith Brown, politics professor and director of Arizona State University’s Melikian Center, briefed the new U.S. ambassador in February 2020, ahead of the original election date. He also spoke to ASU Now about why this election matters for democracies elsewhere.

Man in glasses and tweed jacket

Keith Brown

Question: Why is North Macedonia holding parliamentary elections now, during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Answer: These elections were originally scheduled for April 12, 2020. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev of the Social Democratic Party (SDSM) called those elections after France blocked the country’s EU accession process and in the process weakened Zaev’s credibility among North Macedonia’s citizens.

Following a law that was introduced in 2016 to support free and fair elections, Zaev stepped down 100 days before that election date, with a “technical” caretaker government taking over during campaigning. Parliament was also disbanded. Since COVID-19 forced the postponement of the election date, this temporary multiparty government has been in charge of the country’s emergency response. All parties have agreed on the July date, recognizing the need to elect a new government and reconvene Parliament.

Q: Which are the leading parties, and what are their platforms?

A: Since the country’s independence in 1991, the two most successful parties among Macedonian voters have been SDSM and its main right-wing nationalist opponent, VMRO-DPMNE — whose full name, Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity — barely anyone remembers. The country is ethnically diverse — after Macedonians, the next largest community is ethnic Albanians, who constitute approximately 25% of the population and who have tended to vote for their own political parties. VMRO-DPMNE was in power from 2006–2016, and for most of that decade governed in coalition with the leading Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI). By 2016, though, VMRO-DPMNE’s increasing authoritarianism and xenophobia had alienated Albanian voters. Although VMRO-DPMNE narrowly outpolled Zaev’s SDSM in December 2016, the party was unable to form a governing coalition. Instead, DUI joined SDSM in government.

SDSM focused on foreign policy: Their signature achievement was the Prespa Agreement with Greece, which cleared the way for NATO and EU membership by adopting as his country’s new constitutional name the Republic of North Macedonia. NATO membership was finalized on March 27, 2020, and EU accession talks continue. This approach marked a sharp break with the previous 10 years of VMRO-DPMNE’s policy, which was confrontational rather than diplomatic toward the country’s EU neighbors Greece and Bulgaria. In addition, rather than undertake internal reform to prepare the country for European accession, VMRO-DPMNE relaxed financial and legal regulation to pursue business deals with Russia, China and India.

VMRO-DPMNE’s current election campaign is primarily nationalistic and negative. Ignoring Albanian voters entirely, and also presenting liberalism and pluralism as threatening to core Macedonian values, the party is framing the Prespa Agreement as an act of betrayal. This is at the core of a relentless attack on Zaev himself as unfit to lead, which also accuses the SDSM leader of financial crimes and abuse of power. VMRO-DPMNE originally came to power by appealing to a deep vein of anti-communist and anti-elite sentiment, especially evident in the country’s small towns and villages outside the nation’s capital. Even though VMRO-DPMNE held power for 10 years, and former leader Nikola Gruevski has fled the country to avoid jail time for proven corruption, the party’s leadership are offering their supporters a familiar diet of grievance-based populism.

SDSM has chosen to focus on pluralism and inclusion, and the foreign policy accomplishments of the past two years. Their campaign also includes one significant and potentially game-changing innovation: In prior elections in the country, SDSM have battled VMRO-DPMNE for Macedonian votes, and rival Albanian parties have competed with each other to win the most parliamentary seats in Albanian-majority areas; after which the lead Albanian party effectively operates as “kingmaker,” joining a Macedonian-led coalition after securing the best possible terms. 2020 marks the first where an Albanian party, BESA, has declared a preelection coalition with one of the Macedonian parties, SDSM. BESA’s leadership has recognized that SDSM’s priorities match those of Albanian voters, and VMRO-DPMNE’s do not. 

Q: What drives voter preferences?

A: The country’s economic problems dominate in survey responses. People are concerned with unemployment, especially among young people; with “brain drain,” as many seek education and employment opportunities elsewhere; and with corruption. SDSM is staking its success on the promise of a future in Europe; and the expectation that voters will see the negative VMRO-DPMNE campaign as evidence of the party’s lack of program or vision.

But VMRO-DPMNE supporters have already demonstrated fierce loyalty. Despite clear evidence of Gruevski’s and VMRO-DPMNE’s misuse of public funds and disregard for the rule of law, they delivered the party a narrow electoral win in December 2016. They largely boycotted the public referendum on the Prespa Agreement in September 2018; and they forced a virtual tie in the first round of presidential elections in April 2019. The party’s base — over 350,000 voters — are convinced that their party is the solution to SDSM’s treachery, and outside threats. Conspiracist thinking is widespread, (claiming that) Zaev’s backers include, among others, George Soros, the deep state, the Albanian mafia, the EU’s LGBTQ lobby, and the Greek diaspora’s influence in Washington. These narratives circulate widely through a variety of formally private and independent media outlets in the country, and share style and content with stories on Sputnik and RT. European and U.S. observers see Russian-backed disinformation as a major factor in the coming election.

Q: What is at stake for the U.S. in the North Macedonian elections?

A: When Zoran Zaev and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met to sign the Prespa Agreement in June 2018, it signaled a shared commitment to transform Balkan politics. As Nikola Dimitrov, one of the negotiators, wrote in June 2020, the two sides “turned history from a prison house into a school for the future.” Europe’s leaders agreed, as did the U.S. State Department: General James Mattis was among international figures who visited the Republic of Macedonia to urge citizens to support the deal. And while President Trump had previously triggered criticism when he appeared to question the value for the U.S. of Montenegro’s joining NATO in 2017, he supported North Macedonia’s accession earlier this year.

Recent polls indicate that the SDSM-BESA coalition holds a slight lead over VMRO-DPMNE. If that lead holds, and Zaev is able to assemble a majority in the 120-seat parliament, it will confirm the country’s will to leave behind the destructive and divisive politics of populism and score-settling. It will also show that citizens in North Macedonia can see through the malign disinformation and false narratives peddled by those who put personal or party interests above broader benefits for country and region.

But if VMRO-DPMNE wins, despite their record of corruption and intimidation since 2006, and despite SDSM’s substantial foreign policy achievements of the past two years, the lesson will be clear; Russia’s capacity to conjure election victory for its preferred candidates is as real in 2020 as U.S. and British intelligence agencies discovered it was in 2015 and 2016.

Photo illustration of North Macedonian flag courtesy of Pixabay