February 16, 2022

According to data from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, “at least 82.4 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes.” The study of forced migration has long been at the core of SIPA’s mission, but for some students it’s more than just academic. 

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Galy Kouyoumjian MIA ’23
Galy Kouyoumjian MIA ’23

“I’m Armenian, but was born in Lebanon,” said Galy Kouyoumjian MIA ’23. “For me, issues of migration are important.”

Kouyoumjian, along with Arianna Friedman MIA ’23, recently received a mini-grant from SIPA’s Migration Working Group (MWG), a student organization that provides a platform for the School, University, and greater New York City communities to engage and collaborate around global migration issues. A cornerstone of MWG’s efforts is their annual mini-grants. 

“The Migration Working Group provides mini-grants to encourage SIPA students to engage in innovative migration-related projects, from community-focused workshops to academic research and everything in between,” MWG co-president Julia Julstrom-Agoyo MIA ’23 told SIPA News. “The mini-grant serves to inspire new ideas or aid existing projects so that cost doesn’t have to be a barrier to implementation.” 

For Kouyoumjian, who is also pursuing an MPH from Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, the study of migration is deeply personal. 

“My great-grandfather survived the Armenian genocide,” said Kouyoumjian. “He sought refuge in Syria, and now what’s happening is kind of the opposite—the Armenians that were living in Syria for some years, very happily, they’re going back to Armenia, but also [becoming] refugees all around the world.

“That’s why it’s kind of like a touchy subject for me, it’s close to home. So I’ve always been interested in it.”

Kouyoumjian will use her grant money to interview Syrian refugees in Lebanon and the repatriated Syrian-American population in Armenia for  her MPH thesis, “Mental Health and Economic and Social Integration of Syrian Refugees in Host Countries: 10 Years Later.” Her research focuses on the Syrian populations in Lebanon, Turkey, and Armenia during their post-migration phase.

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Arianna Friedman MIA ’23
Arianna Friedman MIA ’23

Friedman, a concentrator in Economic and Political Development (EPD) at SIPA, also has a personal connection to migration. 

“The way we look at who is a migrant is completely arbitrary — I was born in China, and I got U.S. citizenship through adoption,” Friedman said. “Would I be here if these random factors in my life didn’t align?,” she mused. 

“We don’t really question the fact that the ability to move freely is a privilege, especially for people with a U.S. passport,” Friedman said, recalling her time studying in Brazil as an undergraduate. 

Friedman will use her grant money to continue work with the Aman Project, a nonprofit organization in Istanbul that advocates for displaced LGBTQ+ individuals from the Middle East. She will work with photojournalist Sydney Kornegay to develop the Photo Voice Workshop, a four-week photography program dedicated to exploring themes of belonging and exclusion in Istanbul. The workshop will culminate in an exhibition that will elevate the artists’ voices and narratives while raising awareness about the challenges facing LGBTQ+ refugees globally and providing viewers with tangible action steps to support LGBTQ+ refugees.

Her EPD Workshop is also migration related—she’ll be collaborating with an NGO called Trickle Up to evaluate the work they have done with UNHCR and explore the intersection between humanitarian assistance and development funding.

For Friedman, tackling these issues is an essential part of her SIPA experience. 

“Applying for the grant definitely comes from wanting to make the most of my time at SIPA.”

— Leigh Nusbaum MPA-DP ’22