Plans for Syrian refugee students well underway

Posted on Wednesday, November 4, 2015

By Brandon Gillet

In September, the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) issued a call for postsecondary institutions to channel their efforts to assist with the Syrian refugee crisis.

The campus World University Service of Canada (WUSC) committee and the uOttawa administration answered the call with a number of initiatives to help with this ever worsening crisis. All these initiatives are under the umbrella of the University-led multi-partner Refugee Sponsorship Support program (RSS).

Here at uOttawa, the plan falls under the mandate of the existing Student Refugee Program (SRP).

“The RSS program supports the SRP’s idea that by working together we can change lives and empower students across the world, to surmount social, financial and distance barriers,” said outgoing president and WUSC uOttawa chief adviser Justin Whitaker.

“The goal is to have Syrian students arriving as early as September 2016,” Whitaker added. “In fact, it is a goal of everyone involved to meet this deadline.”

The RSS will expand on the Student Refugee Program by extending the latter’s budget. The university has pledged $200,000  to fund the RSS program, in the hope that that figure will be matched by donor pledges. The RSS will add Syrian student refugees to WUSC uOttawa’s current two-student roster (new first year students per annum).

Part of WUSC’s mandate is to sponsor all types of refugees regardless of geographical location. The University of Ottawa and WUSC want to implement a plan to specifically bring Syrian students to campus while still observing the WUSC committee’s impartial selection process.

“It is important not to forget that there are hundreds of thousands of refugees in Kenya and Malawi still requiring aid and sponsorship,” said Whitaker. “WUSC will continue to emphasize that all refugee struggles are to be highlighted and not to be forgotten”

Looking ahead

The RSS will extend the current four active students per annum (two in first year and two in second year undergrad) to a possible 10 active students in both undergrad and graduate studies. While the local WUSC committee is grateful for the opportunity to expand the SRP, the initiative will only last until funds run out. The local WUSC committee is therefore running a referendum campaign to increase the student levy slightly to ensure continued refugee support. Undergrad students will be asked to contribute an additional $0.50 per session and graduate students $2.

“It’s incredible to have this opportunity. The RSS extends the SRP's program to new heights in terms of numbers for the foreseeable future,” said Whitaker. “It is imperative that the SRP continue to receive new and ample support for these students.”

See the uOttawa funding announcement.

Members of WUSC uOttawa hold a Halloween Fundraiser and Awareness event in order to kick-start their efforts in contributing to the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program.

Why should we help?

“We Canadians have grown up in a peaceful country with ample opportunities. We have faced our own hardships for certain, but these sponsored students are now facing a new language, a new life and a new culture after already facing irreparable experiences. They have lost family members, they have lived without a home, they have not been allowed to go to school simply because of their gender, social status, religious views or other non-academic factors. We Canadians are fortunate to not face such overwhelming odds. Perhaps a special few have in Canada but for the most part we have been fortunate for things as simple as walking to our local library and reading for free. These students have rarely had this chance. It is the least we can do to provide these resources to support the students we bring over.” – Justin Whitaker, WUSC uOttawa – MA candidate, Earth Sciences

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