Annual Human Rights Conference: Global Migration

Webster University’s 2019 Annual Human Rights Conference

Global Migration and Human Rights


LOCATION             Browning Hall Auditorium (ISB Room 160, 8274 Big Bend Blvd.)


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

10:45-11:00         Welcome by Elizabeth (Beth) Stroble, President, Webster University

Conference framework by Lindsey Kingston, Associate Professor of International Human Rights and Director of the Institute for Human Rights & Humanitarian Studies, Webster University


11:00-12:15         Session #1 – Blake Hamilton, Vice President of Programs, International Institute.


12:15-1:00            BREAK

1:00-2:15              Session #2 – Christina Leza, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Colorado College. “Indigenous Rights on the U.S.-Mexico Border.”


2:30-3:45              Session #3 – Roundtable discussion featuring Luke Braby, Adam Saleh, Andy Shah, and Tharwat Ramadan – START (Saint Louis Teens Aid Refugees Today). “Journey to Freedom: Aiding in the Transition to Becoming American.”


Thursday, October 10, 2019

10:00-11:15         Welcome by Julian Schuster, Provost, Webster University

Session #4 – Barbra Lukunka, Peace and Security Programme Officer, International Organization for Migration. “The State and its Citizens: Exploring Political Reintegration of Former Refugees in Burundi.”


12:00-1:15            Session #5 – Winifred R. Poster, Lecturer, Washington University – Saint Louis. “Technologies of Global Im/Mobility.”


1:30-2:45              Session #6 – Amanda Flaim, Assistant Professor, James Madison College of Public Affairs, Michigan State University. “Migration, Development, and Human Rights in the Age of Crisis”


3:00-4:15              Session #7 – Webster faculty panel featuring Professors Mary Ann Drake, Daniel Hellinger, Kelly-Kate Pease, and Debbie Stiles. Moderated by Anton Wallner, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Webster University






Luke Braby and Adam Saleh, both currently seniors at the Saint Louis Priory School, founded the nonprofit organization START (Saint Louis Teens Aid Refugees Today) in June 2018. In its infancy, START’s mission was simple; its founders wanted to “help local refugee families integrate into the community as they START their new life here in America.” However, it became apparent very early that the need for this type of assistance was far greater than the resources available. In May 2019, START partnered with another grassroots organization called Welcome Neighbor STL. The partnership and combined resources allow both organizations to assist local refugee families more effectively. Programs for refugees supported by START and Welcome Neighbor STL include driving lessons, English lessons, relocation services, citizenship classes, and supper club events. Program funding comes from private donors, farmers’ market and festival sales, and supper club events. To date, START and Welcome Neighbor STL have raised over $100,000 to support the programs needed to assist the families in their transition to becoming Americans. Luke and Saleh are joined by Andy Shah and Tharwat Ramadan for a roundtable discussion of local efforts and resources required to meet the demands of refugee families as they struggle to integrate into U.S. communities. Panelists will give a brief overview of the immigration process and the legal and humanitarian rights of these refugee families, and also discuss what resources are available for these families and ways to get involved in the efforts to assist them with integration. Finally, resettled refugees will give their firsthand accounts of resettlement and integration in Saint Louis.


Amanda Flaim is an assistant professor at Michigan State University’s James Madison College. She studies problems and paradoxes in human rights policy, including statelessness and citizenship, human trafficking, and the global expansion of rights to education and birth registration. Her current research projects explore the risk of trafficking among Cambodian and Burmese men and boys into the Thai fishing industry, and the causes and consequences of statelessness in Thailand and Nepal. Flaim has consulted for several NGOs and United Nations agencies on a number of projects, including designing and leading two of the largest country-level surveys of stateless populations conducted to date. Prior to arriving at MSU, she was a postdoctoral associate and Human Rights Fellow at Duke University, where she taught courses on human rights, citizenship, migration, and qualitative and mixed methods research for public policy students. Flaim holds a Master’s degree in Comparative and International Education from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. in Development Sociology from Cornell University. Flaim considers the Global Compact for Migration (GCM), which was widely heralded as a critical political success after a decade of rising political anxieties regarding rates of global displacement. Although the GCM constitutes a non-binding UN agreement, it also symbolizes new commitments between states, international governmental organizations, private interests, and humanitarian agencies to coordinate migration regulation efforts. What kinds of migration require regulation and coordination? And what will be the effect of these efforts? Close analysis of the language in the GCM reveals that it is premised on two supposedly related narratives of migration-as-crisis: First, the GCM promotes the idea that “unregulated” migration is a humanitarian crisis that renders individuals and families unsafe and vulnerable to trafficking; and second, the GCM suggests that unregulated migration constitutes a fundamental crisis for national and global development schemes. By this logic, states working together to regulate migration can promote national development while reducing dangers associated with unregulated migration. A critical analysis of the GCM offers a contrasting, and far less optimistic vision of its political potentialities, however. Indeed, a close reading of the GCM reveals that its logics obfuscate the true, fraught relationship between migration and development, and may render migration more dangerous by placing the onus of the “migration crisis” at the feet of migrants themselves. 


Blake Hamilton is the Vice President of Programs for the International Institute, a nonprofit organization that has “provided essential community integration services to each new wave of immigrants to St. Louis” for 100 years. Hamilton’s areas of specialization include education, social work, workforce solutions, client services, immigration, and global farms. He will discuss the ever-changing political landscape surrounding refugee resettlement to the United States, as well as strategic approaches for advocating for the rights of immigrants and refugees.


Christina Leza is an associate professor of anthropology at Colorado College. She is a linguistic anthropologist and Yoeme-Chicana activist scholar whose research addresses Indigenous peoples, racial and ethnic discourses, grassroots activism, Indigenous rights, cognitive anthropology, and the U.S.-Mexico border. A native Arizonan with strong ties to both the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez and the Tucson-Nogales border regions, her publications include work on U.S.-Mexico border hip hop as identity and social movement discourse and Indigenous activist discourses. Leza addresses the impacts of U.S.-Mexico border enforcement on Native/Indigenous peoples whose homelands are divided by the U.S.-Mexico border. She will review key domestic and international legal rights held by Indigenous peoples in the U.S.-Mexico border region, highlighting both rights violations related to U.S. border enforcement practices and possible avenues for better recognizing Indigenous rights on the border. Leza is an associate professor of anthropology at Colorado College. She is a linguistic anthropologist and Yoeme-Chicana activist scholar whose research addresses Indigenous peoples, racial and ethnic discourses, grassroots activism, Indigenous rights, cognitive anthropology, and the U.S.-Mexico border. A native Arizonan with strong ties to both the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez and the Tucson-Nogales border regions, her publications include work on U.S.-Mexico border hip hop as identity and social movement discourse and Indigenous activist discourses.


Barbra Lukunka is a social-cultural anthropologist with a PhD from American University in Washington, DC. Her research interests include forced migration, peacebuilding, and gender. Her dissertation on the reintegration of Burundian former refugees explores the meaning and process of returnee reintegration after prolonged and multiple episodes of exile. She has conducted field research in Burundi, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. She currently works for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), where she focuses on peace and security and peacebuilding programming. Her prior work experience includes posts with the United Nations in Burundi, Haiti, and New York. She has published articles stemming from her doctoral dissertation including “’They Call Us Witches’: Exclusion and Invisibility in the Burundian Returnee Reintegration Process” (Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 2018) and “The Romance of Return: Post-exile Lives and Interpersonal Violence over Land in Burundi” (in Gender, Violence, Refugees; Berghahn Books, 2017). Lukunka argues that the return of refugees to their country of origin is a process that is fraught with challenges. It is a moment in the refugee trajectory that raises questions about the meaning of home and space. For the state, return and reintegration are processes that raise significant questions regarding territoriality, sovereignty, boundaries/borders, belonging, as well as placement of individuals into the socio-economic and political landscape of a state. In this presentation she explores return and reintegration and interrogate the state-citizen relationship during this process. This lecture is based on doctoral research conducted from 2009-2010 and in 2011. Lukunka contends that the cornerstone of successful reintegration is political reintegration. Political reintegration means ensuring that returnees not only enjoy basic rights such as the right to assemble, right to free speech and much more, but also that they are actively included in the political landscape of the country. Political reintegration entails a focus on ensuring that returnee voices are heard, that they are part of decision-making process, and that they are seen by the local communities and the state as citizens. Political reintegration is about ensuring that the state delivers basic services to the population, including returnees, in an equitable manner ensuring that no one is left behind, marginalized or excluded. This presentation is anchored in the historical context of the Burundian crisis, as well as recent political events that have, once again, led to the force displacement of Burundians across borders into neighboring countries.


Winifred R. Poster teaches international affairs at Washington University, St. Louis. Her research interests are in digital globalization, feminist labor theory, and technologies of activism. With a regional focus on South Asia, she follows outsourcing of high tech and call center firms. Her research looks at ethnographic transformations in ICT service labor, through automation, artificial intelligence, crowdsourcing, and virtual assistants. She also has projects on surveillance, national borders, and cybersecurity. She is co-author of Invisible Labor (University of California Press) and Borders in Service (University of Toronto Press). Her work appears in recent books Captivating Technology (Duke University Press) and DigitalSTS (Princeton University Press). Poster focuses on the issue of labor trafficking, which is part of what the International Labour Organization calls the “new or modern slavery.” At least 12 million workers are subjected to forced labor in their place of origin or residence, while another 9 million are moved domestically or internationally each year. As digital and networked technologies pervade these dynamics, are they being used to thwart or aid labor exploitation? This presentation explores the contradictory implications of technology for global workers, especially in the human rights of labor mobility and immobility. For instance, some kinds of technology are enabling trafficking. Cryptocurrencies and other financial technologies hide traces of traffickers and assist their forcible movements of workers. Other technologies obstruct workers who are migrating voluntarily. State agencies are using biometrics, facial recognition, and “smart” checkpoints to surveille and block laborers in their everyday crossings at borders. At the same time, technology is being used by social justice groups as well. Designed by migrant communities to address their specific digital needs, several apps and programs enable workers to collect data, create databases and maps, and utilize social media for organizing and navigating labor migration barriers.  




Mary Ann Drake is a professor of nursing who began traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border in the summer of 2018, following changes to immigration policy that included family separation. Working with the organization ARISE, which aims to empower women and children working in Texas’ colonias border communities, Drake has taken three trips (and counting) with Webster students and faculty colleagues with a focus on improving access to health and legal services.


Daniel Hellinger is Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Webster University. He is author of several texts and many scholarly articles, including Comparative Politics of Latin America: Democracy at Last? and Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories in the Age of Trump. He is often asked by asylum seekers from Venezuela and Central America to provided expert testimony in support of their applications to remain in the United States, which he does on a pro bono basis.


Kelly-Kate Pease is a professor of international relations who has authored books on international organizations, the United Nations and human rights, and humanitarian diplomacy. Pease has also published articles and chapters on human rights, foreign policy, humanitarian intervention, humanitarian assistance, and international law. She will discuss the weaknesses of international refugee law in addressing the challenges of global migration, as well as controversies surrounding international efforts to launch the Global Compact for Migration and to make the right to migrate a basic human right.


Debbie Stiles is a professor of applied educational psychology and school psychology in the Graduate Department of Education. She is a research scientist and licensed psychologist who has taught at Webster for 39 years, as well as conducted research with children in 13 countries. Her current research project involves studying the therapeutic value of art and storytelling for refugee and asylum-seeking youth living in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and South Africa.



Schedule and details to follow, visit

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Browning Hall, Interdisciplinary Science Building, Auditorium, Room 160
8274 Big Bend Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63119