Ming Kanlongtham Damrongsoontornchai joined the last year's conference as a representative of Thailand. This year, motivated by what he had experienced, he is now the table chief of table 1 with the topic of "The Refugee Crisis in Japanese Context".
" In theory, the intake of refugees sounds like a panacea to the myriads of social issues, but how effective could this be? In light of potential discrimination, stigmatization, and marginalization towards the foreign newcomers, how realistic could this idea be? What are the opportunities and challenges of taking more refugees in? "
Q１. Please tell us what are the reasons/motivations that made you apply for ISC65?
My name is Kanlongtham Damrongsoontornchai (Ming) and I come from Thailand. I am the Table Chief for Table 1 which discusses "The Global Refugee Crisis in the Japanese Context". I am a third-year student at Waseda University in Tokyo but am currently on a one-year exchange program at the University College Freiburg in Germany.
In reminiscence of the experience as a participant in ISC64 held last year, I realised that ISC is not solely a forum where we get to discuss some of the most challenging questions that our world confronts today, but it is a movement of young and motivated people who are eager to become a change agent in the wider society. However, as this venture is undertaken by a team of students who are of different backgrounds, expectations and standpoints, I soon came to learn that Table Chiefs, whose role is to supervise and mediate the discussion, are the sine qua nonof this undertaking. Not only do they initiate the topic for discussion, conduct the research and submit the proposal; Table Chiefs also have the responsibility of bringing their table members together and bridging the gap of the divided opinions which may arise throughout the conference. From the experience during ISC64, I had gradually come to learn the art of teamwork, such as coordinating the tasks, coping with the dissonant voices and working under logistical constraints. By working closely with our Table Chief, I had the opportunity to witness what it is like to take up such a role. Working as a team, I recollect that although we had been, oftentimes, confronted with a panoply of challenges, when our proposal was finally submitted, the wearies on our face were soon replaced by the spirited smile of accomplishment. Perhaps, it was these fresh and fond memories that encouraged me to apply as a Table Chief at ISC65. Being entrusted with such a position, I am aspired to be a part of, and perhaps to instigate, some of the conversations that are of global relevance, however often silenced in our society. I truly hope that with our determination, strong will and effort, Table 1 will able to cater to our society, both local and global.
Q２.What do you think about your table’s topic?
According to the UNHCR, in 2017, at least 65.6 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide due to persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations. The persisting Global Refugee Crisis has become an issue of global attention. Japan, often dubbed as the most "homogenous society", has one of the world's toughest asylum policies. Despite having the third-largest economy, Japan has accepted only 20 refugees in 2017, lesSs than most developed countries across the globe. In the present, Japan finds itself in the context of the ageing society and a rapidly declining population. To heal those social issues, some scholars have purported that its rapidly shrinking workforce could be recuperated by migrant workers and refugees. On the other hand, some scholars also oppose such a position and are in support of more protectionist asylum policies. In the face of those social issues and divided opinions, I believe that the topic of the Global Refugee Crisis in the Japanese Context would be able to spark a series of thought-provoking debates, especially when looking at the Japanese context in particular. I believe that this topic would be inviting for both international and Japanese students as a point of discussion. After having undertaken the research together, the group is expected to develop a policy proposal which puts forward a sustainable, yet realistic solution which would benefit the society. As a student of International Relations and Liberal Arts myself, I am aspired to take this opportunity to explore deeper into those issues and discuss with fellow students who are also interested and engaged in this subject matter. In theory, the intake of refugees sounds like a panacea to the myriads of social issues, but how effective could this be? In light of potential discrimination, stigmatization, and marginalization towards the foreign newcomers, how realistic could this idea be? What are the opportunities and challenges of taking more refugees in? Given that there are so many issues for us to explore, our table aims to accompany the discussion on the Global Refugee Crisis in the Japanese
Q３.What do you think about your table’s activities in overall now?
After a long-drawn period of the selection process and a series of interviews, Table 1 finally welcomed four International participants and four Japanese participants in Spring. Ever since the participants were shortlisted, we have been communicating and working with each other primarily through online platforms. Towards the Main Conference, our table is expecting to have at least three sessions of the monthly meeting. In those meetings, while Japanese participants meet up in Tokyo, foreign members have the chance to join the meeting via Skype. Before each meeting, table members are assigned a task which is aimed at enhancing their understanding of the study topic. Some of the tasks include a literature review on the current asylum policies as well as UNHCR's guideline on engagement with employers in the hiring of refugees. We also reviewed and discussed some of the local news in the hope of understanding more about Japanese society and their perspectives on the issue. Taking advantage of the diversity of our table members, for the upcoming meeting, they are assigned to conduct research on the refugee crisis in a country/region of their choice. Through this task, our participants are expected to have an understanding of the global situation while also notice the different avenues of local solutions that each case has adopted. Apart from the rapporteur-discussant activity within the table, in the latest meeting, Table 1 also welcomed Mr. Takayuki Nakano, the President of Piece of Syria, a Japanese non-profit organization which provides support on the education of the Syrian children. With the input from the guest speaker, our participants became more aware of the issue areas that are not so publicly acknowledged. They were also very enthusiastic during the Q&A session and were able to learn a lot from the discussions with a person with the first-hand experience. Although not all participants could physically meet up so frequently, thanks to the internet, they could stay in touch with each other and exchange their ideas from wherever they happen to be across the globe. It's always so refreshing to witness the enthusiasm and the commitment from the table members and always so exciting to get to know every and each of them better through our interactions!
Q４. Can you share hare with us some of your feelings towards the upcoming ISC65?
From a Table Chief's perspective, although there are a couple of things that are challenging, each and every task that I have encountered so far has been full of excitement and fascination. As a Table Chief, I aspire to become a member of the table who is trustworthy, approachable and supportive. I am, as much as other fellow table members, also in the process of learning more about some of the issue areas that we are passionate about, yet too nescient to claim expertise or appraisal in. In essence, we are a work in progress. We strive to unearth some of the most complex issues that our society confronts today and thereby discover new areas of knowledge. I hope our table topic to be encouraging for both international and Japanese students and to manifest a diversity of opinion. The goal of our research programme is to consolidate that very diversity of opinion that arises during the discussion in a meaningful and coherent way as well as being relevant and realistic in the Japanese context. Since our table topic is interdisciplinary and multidimensional, I believe that our discussion should not be limited to an esoteric circle or the academia, but it should incite curiosity and prompt dialogues among the public at large as well. I am extremely grateful for my working team who have always been so supportive, encouraging and motivating throughout my journey as in ISC65. Furthermore, now that all the participants have been finalised, I am very excited to work with them and grow together as onetable. I am looking forward to many more meetings in the future and I am very humbled to have been able to contribute to ISC65 as the Table Chief of Table 1.
Q5. Can you tell us a little bit about your hometown?
I was born and raised in Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand. Thailand is a country located in Southeastern Asia and is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). With a rich heritage and abundant natural resources, from its mountain range in the north to the islands that add lustre to the southern shoreline, Thailand is doubtlessly one of the most fascinating destinations in Southeast Asia. Although some first-time visitors arriving in Bangkok might be bemused by the concrete jungle, the notorious traffic jams and the urban crowd, in between the skyscrapers and the modern shopping districts there is a splendour of temples, shrines, museums, markets and stores that are home to traditions and the livelihood of the people. Bangkok is truly a metropolis of diversity with 8.2 million stories worth sharing.