Drawing a fine line between emotions and immigration policy

Ademidun Ajibade, a second-year international affairs grad student, saw immigration through a different lens while on co-op in Greece. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Ademidun Ajibade’s first name means “my crown is sweet” in her native Nigeria. Which is appropriate considering the second-year international affairs graduate student admits that her life so far has had a good taste to it.

“There’s power in name,” says Ajibade, who actually prefers to go by Mary, her middle name, because that’s what friends and classmates called her growing up. The name stuck. “My preference is to be called Mary because I don’t want any sort of confusion where I’m called Ademidun in some circles and Mary in other circles.”

Identity is important to Ajibade, who spent the first six months of 2021 on co-op in Greece working with refugees in search of a new start. She worked with the senior investigator on human rights issues in the office of the Greek ombudsman, an independent agency that mediates disputes between the government and residents.

Her co-op work centered around migration cases involving Greek citizens as well as those of other nationalities.

'I like to consider myself as a global citizen, so my impact on the world is not determined nor restricted to Nigeria,' says Ajibade. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“So when it comes to asylum, an application for citizenship, or applying for a visa to come to Greece, if you had any complaints around that process―maybe you were not responded to fast enough or maybe your application was denied and you wanted to contest it, it will come to our office,” she explains.

The work dovetailed nicely with her master’s degree studies at Northeastern and her bachelor’s degree in international law and diplomacy from Nigeria’s Babcock University, ranked among the country’s top 50 universities.

“It was an interesting time and I loved it,” she says of her co-op.

One of the issues that caught her attention was the European Union’s system of spreading out asylum-seekers among different countries in the bloc, preventing Greece from being overwhelmed with applications. Another benefit of Ajibade’s time overseas was the realization that she was doing valued work.

“Immigration is such a weighty subject for people,” she says. “But the co-op allowed me to understand the fine line between emotions and the law.”

Before her co-op, Ajibade hadn’t worked with the rules and policies of a government institution. A turning point came when she learned to remove personal feelings when dealing with people, even those who may have been escaping dangerous situations in their native countries.

“Greece is a transit country, and they tend to receive a lot of asylum seekers,” she says. “Even though I had studied the law, I was quick to digest news emotionally and say, ‘Oh, I wish this could have been done.’ But the co-op forced me to shelve my emotions in visa application cases or asylum cases and check the law.”

The revelation led her to realize that laws and policies ought to have a human angle to them because, ultimately, whatever laws are passed will affect human lives. “Let our approach be ethical and consider the lives that these laws can change,” she says.

Ajibade points to recent headline-grabbing immigration issues in the United States as a case study in how not to treat people.

“U.S. foreign policy has always been about protecting human rights and democracy, but the deportation of Haitians is inhumane and goes against the same human rights that the U.S. seeks to protect globally,” Ajibade says, referring to the Biden administration’s deportation of thousands of Haitians from Texas. Images of immigration officials on horseback rounding up Haitians triggered international outrage.

“Should our collective conscience and humanities not hold greater power and concern?” she asks.

The Haitian deportation incident is a potent reminder that migration has always been a part of life and will continue to be so. It is also worth noting that nations need to do more when it comes to providing for their people at home to prevent them from leaving for somewhere else, Ajibade says.

“We must be reminded that the world is dynamic, and with climate change, natural disasters, and many unforeseen challenges, the [people of] host countries of today might be the immigrants of tomorrow,” she points out. “How do we want to be treated if that time comes?”

With the skills gained from the co-op, Ajibade now works for the university’s Africa Global Initiative office on the Boston campus. Her work encompasses fundraising, student enrollment, global co-ops, and improving support services for incoming and current African students. The responsibilities complement a strong interest in communications as her co-op required extensive letter-writing with the public, and she used to write for an online platform.

Too many people to count at Northeastern have inspired her, but Ajibade points to one professor in particular―Denise Garcia, who teaches political science and international affairs, as a guiding light. “I took a class with her, and because of the kind of experience she has globally, that’s the kind of life I foresee for myself,” she says.

With just a year left at Northeastern, Ajibade says her future will likely entail a career in communications or improving goods and services in different parts of the world, but won’t be constrained by geography.

“I like to consider myself as a global citizen, so my impact on the world is not determined nor restricted to Nigeria.”

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