York students lead the way during “Refugees Welcome Here” week at the Keele campus

From March 6 to 10, a number of York University student groups and the Syria Response and Refugee Initiative (SRRI) at the Centre for Refugee Studies are collaborating in a week of activities under the banner of Refugees Welcome Here! The events have been planned to engage the campus and community in understanding refugee rights, welcome and protection.

Some of the student leaders involved in Refugees Welcome Here Week

“It is one of the biggest events this year, where we have different student organizations and student leaders come out to show support for refugees. It is a week full of activism, advocacy and educational activities,” says Humaima Ashfaque, SRRI student project ambassador and one of the students helping to organize the week of events. “The aim of the week is to educate people about the refugee crisis around the world, their rights, and their issues so that students are able to advocate for some policy changes.“

Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) President Loly Rico is participating as a panelist at a major event on Violence in Mexico and Canadian Refugee Policy on Wednesday, March 8 at 5pm. The panel is part of the winter 2017 Michael Baptista Lecture organized by York’s Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC).

Rico says that she applauds York’s research centres but most of all its students for their engagement, awareness-raising and activism. The week is in part inspired by a joint CCR-Amnesty International Canada campaign.

Loly Rico

“I am more than happy to be at York for this important Refugees Welcome Here! Week in which the focus will be on human rights and refugee policy,” said Rico. “It is more important than ever to see student leaders addressing issues and concerns like transportation loans.”

Such loans are charged to resettled refugees in Canada by the government for their travel to costs to come to Canada. For example, both York-sponsored Syrian refugees and WUSC-sponsored students are charged these loans.

Rico says that she finds it heartening to see the next generation of leaders in the country take the lead and address unjust policies and fundraising to help their fellow students while raising awareness to see transportation loans policy abolished. (This is also a demand of the CCR.)

“It is wonderful to see the full week of activities that they have put together for their community. I hope their events will be well attended and their hard work rewarded with progressive policy changes,” she added.

The UNICEF York student group is holding a doughnut sale fundraiser to help pay off the transportation loans of two WUSC-Keele sponsored refugee students on Monday from 10am to 4pm in the Bear Pit in Central Square. Vice-President, Amina Khan says “the biggest barrier in helping others is a lack of empathy. Through this week of events, panels and discussion- our goal is to assist in bridging that gap.” She encourages University community members to stop by the fundraiser to learn more about how they can assist in advocacy or making a contribution to help the students pay off their transportation loads. Postcards will be available for community members to use to write to the federal government about stopping the transportation loan policy.

Other activities on Monday in the Bear Pit include “Painting for Solidarity” with Amnesty International at York from 10am to 4pm. Participants can sketch, write, paint, and draw to their heart’s content on an interactive canvas. Messages of welcome for refugees are encouraged.

Student groups involved in the refugee effort will participate in a tabling event in the Ross Link and Bear Pit. The groups taking part in the tabling event are profiled at http://www.osgoode.yorku.ca/refugees/student-initiatives/.

Groups involved in organizing the week are Amnesty International at York, CARL Osgoode, Centre for Refugee Studies and its Student Caucus, CERLAC, Islamic Relief, RefugeAid, Refugee Health Outreach, U of Mosaic York U Fellows, UNICEF York and WUSC Keele.

On Tuesday, March 7, WUSC Keele and Islamic Relief will be screening a refugee-themed documentary, Cast from the Storm. The screening will take place from 4:30 to 6:30pm in 280N York Lanes. Refreshments will be served.

RefugeAid is organizing an educational “Footsteps of a Refugee” activity on Tuesday, March 7 from 10am to 4pm in the Bear Pit. The event focuses on the journeys refugees undertake. The student group is also organizing a speaker session on Thursday from 4 to 7pm pm in 280N York Lanes, which will feature experts speaking about the international and Canadian dynamics of the refugee experience.

Wednesday’s activities, which also mark International Women’s Day, will see the Osgoode Branch of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL-Osgoode) hosting a panel on Women in Refugee Law and Advocacy from 3 to 4:30pm at the law school in Room 2027, Ignat Kaneff Building (Osgoode Hall Law School), Keele campus.

Participating in the panel are Barbara Jackman, Maureen Silcoff and Shalini Konanur, all are considered trailblazers in the field of immigration and refugee law. They will be speaking to students about their legal activism, the challenges facing women in law and advocacy, the needs of women migrants, and what needs to be done now. They will share their decades of experience leading litigation at all levels of court and advocacy on behalf of newcomers to Canada.

On Friday, March 10, Refugee Health Outreach, WUSC Keele, and U of Mosaic Fellows will host a bake sale fundraiser in the Upper Bear Pit from 10am to 2pm. All proceeds will go towards food vouchers for refugees living in the community.

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