York’s Centre for Refugee Studies hosted its 23rd annual professional development course on refugees and forced migration on May 9 to 13 – one of the longest running courses in the field and the only one of its kind in Canada. The course attracts participants and presenters from across Canada and around the world, and this year, York welcomed 47 participants and 18 presenters representing government, non-governmental and United Nations organizations, as well as academics and practitioners in law, medicine and journalism, who came from B.C., Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Ghana and South Africa. Some of them had personal experience as refugees. During the course, a diversity of disciplines and geographic perspectives were represented.
The course covered a range of topics, including: environmental displacement; domestic and legal approaches to asylum; age and gender mainstreaming; sexual minority claims; resettlement and integration issues; health advocacy; and perspectives on the future of forced migration. The public lecture featured Harvard law professor Jacqueline Bhabha, who challenged participants to consider a new paradigm to respond to what she calls “distress migration” in the context of the largest human displacement since the Second World War. In addition to formal presentations, participants engaged in discussions, small group activities, an art session, a site visit to Romero House (a home for refugee claimants) and a walking tour highlighting community partners and perspectives on the resettlement experience, shared by residents of Romero House.
The unique format of the course – which includes invited speakers, small group work, discussions and networking opportunities – facilitates long-term connections and relationships among participants.
“The summer course plants the seed but it is always exciting to see how these connections grow into new collaborations down the road,” said course Co-Director Johanna Reynolds, a York geography PhD candidate. “There is a shared compassion and commitment to forced migration issues among participants so the result is often quite profound.”
The course also promotes a holistic understanding of the complex phenomenon of forced migration. Each year, the course is different because of the changing nature of forced migration, as well the different backgrounds of participants and speakers. For example, this year, the course featured a presentation by the Canadian Special Coordinator for Syrian Resettlement, Deborah Tunis, given the scale of forced displacement from Syria and Canada’s unique response to Syrian resettlement, including private sponsorship (in which many in the York community are participating).
CRS Director Christina Clark-Kazak, who co-directed this year’s course with Reynolds, said “I first took this course as a participant in 2000, when I was federal public servant working on Canadian development assistance in countries affected by forced migration in central and west Africa. Since my arrival at York in 2009, I have directed or guest lectured in the course six times. Every year, I learn something new and I am already looking forward to next year’s course.”
Indeed, some participants do return as participants and/or presenters, others go on to strengthen or establish their own initiatives.
One government representative wrote in an email to the course organizers, “I feel tremendously privileged to have been given the opportunity to attend. I leave feeling inspired and motivated from such an enriching experience with such diverse participants and presenters. I will be recommending this to many of my colleagues.”
Next year, the course will be held May 8 to 12, 2017. For more information, visit crs.yorku.ca/summer/.