The conference, entitled "The Future of the Balkans: Beyond Conflict and Underdevelopment," aims to explore recent conflicts and social and economic development in the Balkans with several prominent guest speakers and workshops.
Gilburt Loescher of Oxford University focused Thursday night on the role the United Nations High Committee for Refugees plays in international politics and its role in the protection of refugees worldwide.
He began by singing the praises of the organization to the audience of about 75 people. "If the [organization] didn't exist, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of refugees would remain unprotected," he said.
But Loescher's tone quickly changed, as he spoke on the topic of the UNHCR's recent refocus of attention away from refugee protection and toward material assistance programs.
He said the organization has rechanneled its efforts into the delivery of food, shelter and other basic material needs, at the expense of protecting the individual rights of people being displaced.
Loescher said this has undermined the group's original goal of protection.
Loescher's talk set the tone for the rest of the weekend's conference.
Robert Jenkins, administrative director of the center, said the purpose of this conference is to increase communication between policy-makers and students. "The goal is to bring together people from Washington and Europe with people here in the Triangle to increase the dialogue between people who wouldn't ordinarily talk to one another."
He said the fresh perspectives that students can offer will give experts in the field a new vantage point.
"I'm hoping to increase the interaction between our students and policy-makers, both American and International, who are actively involved in Balkan issues," he said.
Rye Barcott, a senior peace, war and defense major and conference co-organizer, said this conference is unique because students have the opportunity to play an integral role.
"The design is to have panelists present information and then on Saturday, the design is to have a discussion-oriented small interactive."
He also said a group of six students organized the workshops sessions and came up with the talking points.
Among the highlights of the weekend is the honorary address of Igor Davidovic, ambassador of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the U.S., who will speak Friday at 4:30 pm in Room 039 at the Johnston Center for Undergraduate Excellence.
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