Amplifying refugee voice on campus

Turning passion into action


Waseda University’s Intercultural Communication Center (ICC, previously known as the International Community Center), was founded in June 2006 to promote cultural exchange and understanding of people from all walks of life. Every year, ICC holds approximately 300 events, which are organized and run by its Student Staff Leaders.

Student Staff Leaders not only plan and run their own events, but they work together with event supporters, promote ICC activities by conducting presentations for local and international guests of the University, and are expected to take part in wide range of duties, honing valuable skills and experiences.

Mayuko Tomiyama, a third year student at the School of Law, is one of the Student Staff Leaders at ICC. She is currently organizing an event inviting one of the six Syrian refugees in Japan, Mr. Yasser Jamal Al Deen, to speak about his experiences. Here, Tomiyama shares what it has been like organizing this event.

The event will be held on May 19. More details available here.

Inviting a Syrian refugee to speak at ICC

Why did you become a Student Staff Leader at ICC?

Tomiyama (left) at an ICC event

There are more than 5,000 international students here at Waseda, and ICC Student Staff Leaders have the opportunity to promote cultural exchange among such diverse student body. This was very appealing to me. Additionally, I was intrigued by their role, which is to plan and run events that send important message across a large audience, cultivating compassion. For example, the event I am organizing now is about the Syrian conflict and refugee problems, which are issues I would like more people to learn about.

Why did you decide to organize this talk session?

Many Japanese people have heard about the refugee problems in the Middle East at the surface level through news and other media, but the issue is treated as something that is happening in a distance land. They  do not think or discuss further about it. While it may be true that Japanese people have difficulties imagining the harsh lives of refugees as Japan is geographically far away from the Middle East, making such excuses would imply that Japanese people do not care.

How did you get interested in refugee problem?

I became interested after watching a documentary about refugee camps in Australia. The documentary reveals the despairing living conditions where asylum seekers are placed while waiting for their application to be processed. I had no idea what lives of refugees were like until I saw the documentary, which left me in total shock.

How did you meet Mr. Al Deen?

event_shiria_jamar_20160302_5-380x290Mr. Al Deen was a guest speaker for a talk session I attended. I still remember how absorbed I was by his words, as he talked about the lives of refugees in Japan before their applications were processed. What he had to say left an impact so strong, that I requested him to give the same talk at Waseda University.

What do you hope to achieve by organizing this talk session?

I would like for participants to hear the heart-wrenching voices of refugees, who have fled their countries and live in fear of the bombings in war zones, through the words of Mr. Jamal, who has fled Syria and now living in Japan. Last year in December, a man who was living in Aleppo said on a video call: “What we need or want from you is not ‘things’ or donation. What we really hope for is that you do not forget about us. Please, do not forget about the refugees of Syria.” It has been 6 years since the start of the Syria Civil War. We must not and we should never accept this as daily life.

_20170422_161812Recently, there has been a lot of news on air bombing on Syria. However, air bombing is an objective term. What the people in Syria are really experiencing is an air raid. In order to spread the word on the painful experiences and harsh living conditions of Syrian refugees, I absolutely feel that it is meaningful to organize such talk session. I sincerely hope that this will trigger conversations among participants, in which they could seriously contemplate issues related to Syria and refugees.

Commitment to educating global citizens

ICC is a space where all students can interact in a safe environment and develop new understanding of the world around them. Through their leadership, Student Staff Leaders help enhance this experience for their peers, staying true to Waseda University’s commitment to educate global citizens. Learn more about other ICC Student Staff Leaders here.

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