York University hosts Refugee Advocacy Week, Feb. 29 to March 5 at the Keele campus

refugees in line
Syrian refugees queue at a border checkpoint

In Fall 2015, York University launched its Syria Response and Refugee Initiative, building on its leading engagements in the field and in the academy amidst the global refugee crisis. The initiative includes direct sponsorship of Syrian refugees and increased student refugee sponsorship through its World University Service of Canada (WUSC) Committees. Visit www.yorku.ca/refugees to learn about campus initiatives supporting refugees and promoting awareness and education in this field – and how you can contribute.

What are the ways in which individuals and groups can get involved in supporting and advocating for refugees? What are the unique needs of refugees entering Canada? These questions and many more are at the heart of York University’s Refugee Advocacy Week, taking place Feb. 29 to March 5 at the Keele campus.

John Carlaw
John Carlaw

“This week offers an amazing opportunity for members of the York University community to further their knowledge and get involved in refugee advocacy and support in ways that many faculty, staff and students have been asking for,” says John Carlaw, project lead of the YU Syria Response and Refugee Initiative.

Co-organized by York University’s Syria Response and Refugee Initiative and Osgoode Hall Law School’s International Legal Partnership, Refugee Advocacy Week offers a diverse array of activities that highlight the many ways faculty, staff and students can get involved in refugee advocacy and support.

“Osgoode’s International Law Partnership (ILP) is a student run organization that places students as legal fellows with NGO’s throughout the world. Every year we run a week-long event, Advocacy Week, with a particular thematic focus. This year we chose to focus on an issue that has affected millions of people, namely the global refugee crisis,” explains Cristina Candea, a master’s student at Osgoode Hall Law School and the events coordinator for ILP. “This has become an incredibly widespread issue, involving countries all over the world. The refugee crisis has initiated a global outburst of support, as well as controversy. The week’s events are going to inform, train, engage and provoke students and faculty to consider these issues and join the support of incoming refugees.”

Monday, Feb. 29: Refugees Welcome Here! Advocacy Training
12:30 to 3:30pm
Moot Court Room, Osgoode Hall Law School
Ignat Kaneff Building, Keele campus
Post training reception at the Osgoode Junior Common Room (JCR) (3:30-5:30) RSVP is required.

Christina Harrison Baird
Christina Harrison Baird

Following a brief introduction to York’s Syria Response and Refugee Initiative, the week kicks off with an intensive session of refugee advocacy education and training based on the Refugees Welcome Here! advocacy campaign. The training will be delivered by Osgoode Hall Law School alumna Christina Harrison Baird (JD ’96).

Refugee protection in Canada is enjoying a renaissance, with the generous response of people across the country to the dire situation of Syrian refugees. The Refugees Welcome Here! campaign organized by the Canadian Centre for Refugees and Amnesty International seeks to build on this compassion and energy to confirm that Canada creates sustainable systems and an ongoing commitment to refugee resettlement, ensures fairness for refugees who claim protection when they arrive in Canada, offers refugees a warm welcome and the best possible opportunity to make Canada a happy home for themselves and their families. The Refugees Welcome Here! campaign strives to achieve these goals by making sure Canadians are well informed about refugees, their needs and rights, and working together with refugees to ensure that respect for refugee rights is an integral part of Canadian policy.

“We are very excited to welcome Christina back to Osgoode and the York University campus. She is an outstanding example of a socially engaged and dynamic alumna. The refugee advocacy training she will offer is a great opportunity for students from both Osgoode and the wider University. It is also great to see Osgoode student groups engaged in global issues,” says Lorne Sossin, dean of Osgoode Hall Law School.

Harrison Baird is a lawyer specializing in international human rights and migration. She has worked to protect refugees as a part of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) on three continents: Asia, Africa and North America. From 2003 to 2007, she was the Canadian focal point for the UNHCR’s work on human trafficking, and was the coordinator for the Anti-trafficking Project of the Canadian Council for Refugees from 2010 to 2011. She has taught International refugee law, public international law and human rights at Carleton University. Harrison Baird is coordinating the Canada-wide refugee awareness campaign of Amnesty International and the Canadian Council for Refugees.

Why is the training a “must have” for individuals? “Canadians might think we’re resettling tens of thousands of refugees, isn’t that enough? The answer is no,” says Harrison Baird.

“Our resettlement commitment is a great start, but Canada has lots of room to improve. For example, reunification of refugee families is excruciatingly slow. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has expressed concern that Canada is violating the rights of refugee children separated from their parents,” she says. “Refugee Advocacy remains an essential element in our quest for a just society.”

Tuesday, March 1: Film Screening and panel discussion
2:30 to 5pm
Helliwell Centre/ADR Room
Osgoode Hall Law School
Ignat Kaneff Building, Keele campus

Osgoode’s International Legal Partnership (ILP) and Middle Eastern Law Students Association (MELSA) are presenting a panel discussion and screening two short documentaries: A requiem for Syrian Refugees and We Walk Together: A Syrian refugee family’s journey to the heart of Europe.

A Requiem for Syrian Refugees is a poignant journey of survival, resilience and empowerment. It is a powerful documentary that features epic landscapes and compelling candid testimonies of Syrian refugees. The film was shot with a crew of refugees who felt the urgency to convey their situation to the world, including Rokn, a teenage girl who is featured in the film taking photos of life in the camp to preserve the memory of their experience.

We Walk Together: A Syrian refugee family’s journey to the heart of Europe was created by Guardian newspaper journalist and filmmaker John Domokos. It tells the story of thousands of refugees who were sleeping rough at Budapest’s Keleti station. As they waited for trains to take them to Western Europe, they decided to walk. Domokos went with them and documented the story of one Syrian family, and those who came out to help.

Wednesday, March 2: Refugee Advocacy, Education and Engagement Fair
10am to 4pm
Vari Hall
Keele campus

Organizations including the World University Service of Canada (WUSC), Osgoode’s International Legal Partnership (ILP), York’s Syria Response and Refugee Initiative, Syrian refugee sponsorship teams and a wide variety of other campus groups engaged in refuge advocacy and education will be present at this event. Come out and meet the people working with and on behalf of refugees and learn more about what is being done and how you can help promote refugee awareness on campus and in the wider community.

If you are part of a campus department or group that would like to have a space at the Refugee Advocacy, Education and Engagement Fair please contact ILP’s Saquiba Rahman at saquiba.rahman@gmail.com .

Wednesday, March 2: Centre for Refugee Studies Seminar featuring the World University Service of Canada (WUSC)
12:30 to 2pm
280N York Lanes
Keele campus

York University is increasing the number of WUSC sponsored refugee students to five per year. In this seminar hosted by the Centre for Refugee Studies, participants can learn about the WUSC and the crucial work it provides and how to get involved. Contributing panelists are: Heather Dirckze, WUSC co-chair, Keele campus committee; Heather Donald, WUSC alumna, Refugee Sponsorship Training Program; Adol Mawien, WUSC sponsored student; Emily Leahy, WUSC committee, Glendon campus; and, panel chair Don Dippo, professor, Faculty of Education, York University.

Saturday, March 5: A Night of Music and Dance of Iran (a fundraising concert for Syrian refugees organized by the York Music and Friends Syrian Refugee Sponsorship Team)
180 Shaw Street, Studio 101
Toronto, M6J 2W5

Only 60 tickets are available for this event. Tickets can be purchased online.

Thousands of years of Iranian history comes to life in this magical night of music and dance. In ancient Persia, musicians and performers were revered and held a special place in society. From classical to pop, folk and instrumental, the talented musicians and dancers performing in this special concert on behalf of Syrian refugees have put together a varied and delightful performance that is both uplifting and inspiring. Confirmed performers in trio and quartet are: Alinima Madani (tombak); Amin Reyhani (santur); Amir Samimi (percussion); Arash Javadi (oud); Bamdad Fotouhi (daf and tombak); Farshid Meshkinfam, vocalist; Mehdi Rezania (santur); Raman, Miteran, vocalist;  and Shahrokh Saeedi (tar). Accompanying the music are dancers Mahsa, and Nouchin Davar.

For more information, contact Sherry Johnson, team lead, York Music and Friends Syrian Refugee Sponsorship Team, by email to sherryj@yorku.ca. You can donate directly to their refugee sponsorship team at the GTA Ryerson University Lifeline Syria Challenge website.

For more information and updates visit Syria Response and Refugee Initiative website.