Hands-on help for refugees
Assma Basalamah remembers happier summers visiting her aunt and grandmother in Duoma, Syria. She recalls walking through the streets and visiting local vendors. Today, those streets are unrecognizable. Since the civil war ravaging that country broke out, Basalamah, 24, has spent long hours waiting for sporadic news via WhatsApp or Facebook about her family’s safety and whereabouts as they endured heavy shelling and then fled to Jordan.
Two years ago, Basalamah began the process of trying to bring her aunt, uncle and four cousins to Canada. After gathering much of the paperwork, the fourth-year student discovered that forms had been changed by the government and new ones had to be filled out. "I couldn’t navigate the system. Even as a law student I was completely lost," says Basalamah.
As for third-year law student Mayoori Malankov, 29, she was two years old when her Tamil parents fled civil war in Sri Lanka. Growing up in Toronto, she watched as her accountant mom helped other Tamil refugees adjust to life in Canada. "I remember the pain in everyone’s voice when they talked about family that they were forced to leave behind. People would break down and cry,” says Malankov.
Basalamah and Malankov are among 15 law students selected out of 50 applicants to take a unique common law research course in which they will help private sponsorship groups navigate the legal processes involved in bringing Syrian refugee families to Canada.
The course is part of uOttawa’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis. It follows on the heels of an October 1 legal clinic that the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program (SSP) and the City of Ottawa held for people interested in privately sponsoring Syrian refugees. More than 450 people representing 150 private sponsorship groups showed up. About 1,000 lawyers have already signed up with the SSP, willing to work pro bono helping the groups through the legal process. Students in the course will be paired up with lawyers and private sponsorship groups.
Coursework includes developing a manual for lawyers to provide guidelines on legal issues surrounding private sponsorship, recruiting pro bono Arabic translators and interpreters to help process applications and visiting high schools to raise awareness about refugees.
“This isn't a theoretical exercise. This is real life,” says Malankov, who hopes to one day specialize in refugee law.
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