Only by upholding our duty to protect those fleeing persecution and violence, and by embracing the opportunities that refugees and migrants offer to their new societies, will we be able to achieve a more prosperous and fairer future for all.
~ United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
The international community has been shaken in recent years by ongoing conflicts around the world that have contributed to an unprecedented migration crisis. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the world’s refugee population currently exceeds 20 million – and more than half of that number are children.
I am proud of the leadership role that Canada is taking in setting an international standard in refugee support. Our community and government leaders are helping to remind the world of the critical importance and value of diverse, inclusive and peaceful societies.
Diversity and inclusion are central to our mission here at York. They are founding institutional principles that are embedded in the history and day-to-day life of our community, and this is perhaps most evident when considering the University’s strong response to the refugee crisis.
The World University Service of Canada (WUSC) has had an active presence at York since 1987, connecting Canadian students with international development projects around the world. One of their key initiatives is the Student Refugee Program, which helps to arrange sponsorship and support of refugees so that they can attend university in Canada.
Today at York, we have two active chapters of WUSC, one at our Keele campus and the other at our Glendon campus. Between 1987 and the 2015-16 school year, WUSC at York facilitated the sponsorship of 25 students. Last year, the University announced that we would be expanding and enhancing support for WUSC-sponsored and non-sponsored student refugees. Beginning this year, WUSC increased refugee sponsorship from one to five refugees each year.
I commend the students who direct our two WUSC chapters for their exemplary leadership and ability to adapt and reinforce their practices to successfully manage this increase in sponsorship support.
Another community leader supporting refugees at York is our Centre for Refugee Studies. The Centre conducts research on refugee education, urban refugees, resettlement and resettlement diplomacy, and much more.
The Borderless Higher Education (BHER) project is run by the Centre—an initiative that delivers postsecondary education to refugees in the Dadaab camps in Kenya. Students graduate with a York University Certificate in Educational Studies, and are then able to share their love for learning as teachers in the camp. Approximately 120 students have graduated from this pioneering program so far.
Every day our students, faculty, staff and alumni are finding new ways to make a difference in this area. I would like to close by acknowledging the role played by Osgoode Hall Law School in leading our Syria Response and Refugee Initiative in collaboration with WUSC, the Centre for Refugee Studies and Lifeline Syria. Dean Sossin and the Osgoode community successfully brought together groups and departments from across the University to raise funds for and create awareness about the Syrian refugee crisis. Thanks to their efforts, our response to the crisis was swift and continues today.
I encourage you to learn more about these initiatives and to consider how you may be able to support them. The current refugee and migrant crisis has been described by many as the global crisis of our time—one that will define the decade and a generation. It is up to all of us to take collective action to meet this global humanitarian challenge.